The Impact Food has on Seniors

On: June 12, 2017

by Rodney Sykes, Dining Services Manager 

Luciano Pavarotti once said, “One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”

We all know the nutritional benefits of food, but having worked in the food service industry for many years, I have realized the impact meals have on individuals’ moods and situations.  Food and how it’s prepared can dictate how a party, wedding, or meeting goes; it can change feelings and bring the best or the worst out of some people.

For many seniors, meals are one of the highlights of their days. Besides the social aspect of sharing a meal with friends and loved ones, seniors may associate certain foods (including the tastes, aromas, and textures of food) with past experiences and feelings. There is a strong relationship between memory and food. Certain dishes can trigger memories of earlier food-related events and activities in our lives. Eating soft pretzels or water ice takes me back to my childhood in Philadelphia — hanging out on summer days with friends and enjoying life without any major worries aside from deciding which video game I was going to play.

Our eating behaviors develop as children and are influenced by family and our surrounding cultures.  Thinking of foods, we enjoyed during holidays or special events may provide memories of excitement and comfort, or even sadness and sorrow. Food has the ability to deeply impact our lives.  That impact does not change even if the ability to swallow, chew, or digest changes.

It is important for those of us caring for older adults to help preserve both the interest in and the access to food that is emotionally meaningful and nutritious. Changes in appetite due to limited mobility and changes in taste related to medication can reduce a senior’s interest in eating — resulting in weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration, and complicate other medical issues.  Some seniors who are on their own may find it unappealing to prepare a meal for just themselves or find it sad to eat alone.

We need to ensure seniors are giving the appropriate attention to their eating habits by offering them assistance with food shopping, prep, and storage. We also need to continue the conversation with them regarding nutritional value of food and the dishes that have the most meaning in their lives. Finally, we also need to take time to share a meal with seniors to create a few new memories together! 

Published in the Daily Local News, June 12, 2017