Did you know that your elderly relatives or neighbours may not be eating well enough to sustain good health? A study from the Massey University Auckland, recently investigated the eating habits of single older men, concluding that many of these men are at risk of becoming undernourished, and suffering health problems due to poor nutrition.
The study looked at men who had endured war, the Depression, food rations and hardship. They found that for most men having to suddenly fend for themselves in the midst of the healthy eating phenomenon was “bewildering, if not irrelevant and meaningless.”
Considering the background of some of these men, this world must seem like a crazy, fickle, and self-absorbed place! We are blessed abundantly with an array of wonderful food, however the enormity of our wastage is absolutely shocking.
What were the barriers to healthy eating in this group of single older men?
Ms Bowden suggests a number of barriers, including:
- Individual circumstances
- Their food-related values
- Limited cooking skills
- Financial difficulties
- Unfamiliarity with common healthy eating messages, such as the “5+ a day” programme
- Poor mobility, or access to transport
- Lack of reliable family, or social networks to help with shopping, cooking etc
So, what can YOU do to help?
It is particularly important to encourage older people to eat well, so that they can continue to enjoy good quality of life. However, this can be challenging if they live alone, as cooking for one often seems like an unnecessary hassle.
Ms Bowden suggests community-based education classes directed specifically at men to inform them about shopping on a limited budget, as well as teaching basic food preparation, storage and meal planning skills. The added bonus with such a programme is the social aspect the group would offer, with the opportunity to gain friendships with those in a similar situation. She also suggests the need for a better public transport system, tailored to meet the needs of elderly people for food shopping.
It is true that families can play a vital role in providing support by inviting older relatives over for meals, or transporting them to the local supermarket or doctor’s appointments, when necessary. However, many older individuals don’t have the luxury of relatives living nearby.
Is there someone in need living next door to you?
Mealtimes can be a particularly lonely time for someone living alone – maybe you could prepare a little extra when you cook your families meals – you may be in the position to provide a meal once each week, or maybe you can invite them to have dinner with you and your family from time to time?
Can you offer to take them shopping one day each week? Or maybe you could pick up a few things while you’re shopping for your own items?
Obviously, some may say ‘no’ to your suggestion, however you may have opened up the opportunity of future help – perhaps you could give them your phone number, in case they are in need at a later date.
Finally a wonderful story!
Melyssa Kowolski has struggled with health problems all of her life, and as a result is particularly small for a 9-year-old child. However, one Saturday, Melyssa and her parents heard shouts coming from the house next door. When they checked on the noise, they discovered that their elderly neighbor had fallen down, and was unable to get up. All of the doors and windows to the house were locked. Melyssa’s father pried open one of the windows about 5 inches, and Melyssa managed to squeeze through the window, and open the front door, so that help could get to their neighbour.
Melyssa said, “I was always worried about being smaller because I couldn’t do things that kids my age can that are taller. But my mother said that one day I would see that my size was special. And Saturday – was my day!” The elderly lady now calls Melyssa her “little heroine!”