There are many reasons that seniors—people over the age of 65—find themselves dining alone frequently. However, it may be taking a toll on their health and well-being to eat most meals without company.
Risks of Eating Alone Risks
It’s tempting to let things be and allow someone their privacy to eat in a way that they find acceptable. Unfortunately, when people eat alone all of the time, they are more susceptible to problems like malnutrition and depression.
What happens when people have every meal alone?
- Experts say they are less likely to make nutritionally balanced meals for just one, and instead might skip a meal or opt for something quick and easy that is lacking in the necessary nutrients.
- When people aren’t eating right it can increase the risk of other health problems, such as an increased likelihood of falling, longer recovery time from surgery or illness, decreased strength for self-care, and any one of these might lead to a hospital stay or readmission. The National Council on Aging states, “Good nutrition can lead to an up to 50% reduction in avoidable [hospital] readmissions.”
- Studies have shown that a poor diet (one that is not rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) can lead to an increased risk for depression. Researchers continue to investigate a link between depression and the onset of dementia and whether it is a risk factor for the brain disease.
- Changes in weight and mobility. Some people might dramatically lose weight as a result of skipping meals, while others may be filling up on sugar and gain weight.
When someone has company for meals regularly, they are less likely to feel lonely and therefore depressed or become ill from not eating properly.
Let’s take a look at why this isolation might be happening in order to find a solution:
- A surviving spouse may find him or herself now living—and eating alone—after many years of sharing meals with the same person. Their routines for breakfast, lunch and dinner did not include friends, neighbors or family on a regular basis and so now they just eat alone most of the time.
- Some people can become self-conscious of their changing abilities and isolate themselves so that others don’t see a tremor in their hands as they move the fork or spoon to their mouths or spill on themselves as they eat or drink.
- Changes in eyesight can make meal preparation and eating different and uncomfortable.
- Problems with dental health can impact chewing, making it difficult to eat certain foods.
- Others may struggle with swallowing and therefore feel awkward eating in front of anyone else.
- Certain medications can cause changes in food taste or overall appetite.
- Fears about being safe in the kitchen with open flames, being able to see expiration dates or smell if food has spoiled, use sharp knives and more. Other chronic conditions such as arthritis might be limiting their ability to cook in the way that they used to.
If you are concerned about a loved one not eating well, start a conversation to see if one of the above issues is their concern and how you can help them overcome the problem, if possible. The key might be changing a medication, creating a plan for meals with a variety of folks they know and care about, or establishing meal delivery.