Company at mealtime: Seniors just eat it up

By Sean Barron

Special to The Vindicator


When it comes to meals, what do many older people want the most?

If you guessed a juicy steak or prime rib, garden-fresh vegetables or a favorite beverage, you would be wrong on all counts.

According to recent research, most adults over 65 desire a healthy serving of companionship.

“It takes care of loneliness and fills that void in their lives,” said Dawn Trickett, senior administrative assistant with Home Instead Senior Care, 5665 Mahoning Ave. “Otherwise, they [often] become withdrawn, isolated and start to decline.”

As a result, Home Instead offers a “Craving Companionship” program, created to help older people feel more connected socially and eat more nutritiously. The biggest mealtime challenge for many seniors who live alone is lack of shared family experiences, including companionship, the agency’s website says.

Along those lines, Home Instead also is hosting a national recipe contest.

The 17-year-old Omaha, Neb.-based Home Instead Senior Care franchise, with more than 700 offices in the United States, has highly trained caregivers who provide home care to clients and their families. Services include companionship and conversation, respite care, light housekeeping, transportation, medication reminders, help with walking, reading and preparing grocery lists, and assistance with arranging appointments, Trickett noted.

“We work with seniors at home, in nursing homes and assisted-living centers, wherever they reside,” she continued, adding that the local Home Instead office has more than 140 caregivers who serve those in Mahoning, Trumbull and northern Columbiana counties.

Two clients thankful for such services are Irma, 79, and Connie, 80, who needed companionship and assistance after having undergone open-heart surgery and a hip replacement, respectively.

Neither woman wanted her last name used.

“They become part of your family,” said Irma, of Austintown. “I just liked having someone around.”

Irma, who’s lived by herself since her husband died about four years ago, appreciated the shared meals, she said, partly because it’s difficult to cook for one. As a result, Irma tends to rely on light, easy-to-prepare meals, she added.

Connie, of North Jackson, has three children as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, many of whom she sees regularly. Nevertheless, having a caregiver who provided companionship until she got back on her feet was important, Connie explained, adding that she’s had few problems living alone after her husband died seven years ago.

The recipe contest, which runs through Sept. 15, is intended to help bring back favorite family recipes and revive mealtimes for many older people who live alone or are lonely. The contest is collecting family caregivers’ recipes from throughout the country for a cookbook that’s to be available in time for the holidays.

The top finisher will receive a $500 gift card, and proceeds will go toward the Home Instead Senior Care Foundation, Trickett noted.

For more information on the recipe contest and services, call Home Instead at 330-729-1233 or email the office at


Recent research has shown that many senior citizens who live alone want someone to share meals with, but they face certain difficulties related to mealtimes. Some challenges and tips for remedying them:

High cost of cooking for one. Encourage shared meals when possible and look into local senior centers, which often offer affordable meals, as well as programs such as Meals on Wheels.

Over-reliance on convenience foods. Have the older adult consult with a nutritionist or doctor to get in the habit of reading labels. Many seniors don’t know which are healthful and unhealthful foods.

Eating three meals a day. Many older people take prescription medications, so coordinate medication plans and times with meals.

Loss of appetite. Help the person make a meal an event. For example, prepare a favorite recipe and decorate the table with real or artificial flowers.

Eating too much or too little. In many instances, the problem is the wrong type of foods, so help the older person shop for healthful ones. Plan a special dish or a trip to a favorite restaurant for the person who eats too little, and consult with a doctor if lack of food and nutrition are ongoing.

Source: Home Instead Senior Care Inc.

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