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Nutrition and Mealtimes


As our loved ones age, the possibility of accidents happening in the kitchen goes up dramatically. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, people over the age of 65 have a 2.5 times greater risk of dying in a kitchen fire than the general population. Our loved ones are much more prone to falling when trying to reach something on the top shelf, and more susceptible to foodborne illnesses that can be fatal from improperly stored food. Consider these tips when helping your loved one cook:

  • Make sure your loved one never leaves food unattended while cooking. Consider buying them an automatic shut-off device so that if they do forget to turn something off, you have peace of mind.

  • Many things in the kitchen can be fire hazards. Your loved one should not wear loose clothing when cooking, keep towels and potholders far away from hot surfaces and clean up the stove immediately so that oil and fat don't build up on the surface.

  • Prevent falls in the kitchen by making sure your loved one's kitchen isn't cluttered, install bright lights, encourage them not to use the high cabinet, store heavy objects at waist level and check the refrigerator for leaking water.

  • Make sure your loved one doesn't get a foodborne illness by ensuring meats and vegetables are stored in sealed containers. Check the temperature of their fridge routinely; cold food should be kept at no less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit and reheated food should be no less than 165 degrees. Be sure your loved one returns their leftovers to the fridge immediately after a meal. When in doubt, throw it out!

  • If your loved one has dementia, it may be time to intervene with their cooking habits. Lock up sharp objects and knives, label everything and post reminder signs, use timers and pre-cooked foods to help your loved one remain as independent as they can. However, the time will come when it is no longer safe for your loved one to cook on their own. When that time comes, consider bringing meals over for them or start using one of the many different home-delivered meal options.

  • There are many cooking aids made specifically for seniors. Some options for your loved one are: wide-handled utensils with non-slip grips, one-handed cutting and preparation boards, pot stabilizers and arthritic friendly bottle openers.

Difficulty Eating

As your loved one ages, they may experience changes that impact their appetite, their ability to distinguish taste, smell, temperature and texture of food, and if they have dementia, they may have difficulty feeding themselves. You can help your loved one maintain proper nutrition and avoid unwanted weight loss and other negative outcomes by following the tips below. Your loved one's physician may also recommend nutrient-rich liquid supplements to help your loved one maintain their health.

  • Make sure the dining area where your loved one takes meals is appropriate. If your loved one has vision problems, poor lighting can make it difficult to see the food in front them. Use plates without distracting patterns and make sure there is adequate color contrast between food and plate. Remove distractions-e.g., turn off the TV-especially if your loved one has dementia, since they may have trouble focusing on the fact that it is mealtime. Remove unneeded items from the table and make sure there are not too many food choices.

  • If your loved one has difficulty grasping utensils, replace some foods with finger foods such as small sandwiches, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh fruits and vegetables. If necessary, use plates with large rims, cups with lids and wide bases, flexible straws, utensils with large handles, and nonslip placemats to keep dishes from moving on the table.

  • Mood, behavior and physical function can impact eating as dementia progresses. Maintain familiar routines. If the person in your care has always eaten dinner at the same time, honor that. If they have always prayed before meals, continue to say the prayer before eating. Don’t introduce unfamiliar routines, such as a hearty breakfast if your loved one has had a slice of toast for breakfast their entire adult life. If your loved one is receiving assistance from a home care aide, be sure to share these preferences and routines with them.

  • Make sure your loved one is sitting upright while they eat to avoid choking. If they have difficulty chewing, food can be minced, shredded or pureed.

  • Dry mouth can make chewing and swallowing difficult, so make sure your loved one stays hydrated by offering water throughout the day-this can also help avoid constipation, confusion and dizziness.

Personal Hygiene

Bathing Tips

If your older loved needs assistance with bathing, it can be an uncomfortable experience for both of you, but is it necessary for health and well-being. Be open with your loved one about their bathing needs. If necessary, enlist your loved one's doctor in stressing that they need help in this area. Ask your loved one their preferences regarding who they would like to have help them with this task. If the task falls to you, here are some tips to make the experience go smoothly. If you develop and stick to a routine, it should become less uncomfortable for both of you over time.

  • A daily full bath may not be in your loved one's best interest. Skin tends to become more dry and sensitive as we age, so a head-to-toe scrubbing everyday could do more harm than good. Instead, private areas and skin folds should be gently cleaned on a daily basis with a warm washcloth. Save the full baths for two or three times a week.

  • Make sure the bathtub or shower is properly equipped to accommodate your loved one's level of balance and agility. Remove any items from the bathroom floor that could be a tripping hazard (including area rugs). Install grab bars in the tub or shower, and get a shower seat if needed to help your loved one avoid falls. An inexpensive hose for the tub can make rinsing easier. If they are unable to step into a bathtub, install a transfer bench or consider sponge baths. Make sure the room is warm and test the temperature of the water before your loved one enters the bath.

  • Regardless of the method of bathing, prepare in advance any items that will be needed—washcloths, towels, soap and shampoo. If your loved one has favorite products that they've always used, keep using those unless they become too harsh for sensitive skin. If you switch to a baby shampoo or sensitive skin formula soap, explain to your loved one the reason why.

  • Allow your loved one some level of privacy when cleaning private areas. They can keep a towel on their lap throughout the bath which is only lifted as needed.

  • If your loved one is able to handle a washcloth, let them clean themselves as much as possible, even if it's just to wipe down their arms. That simple action can help them retain a sense of independence and can help keep their mind off the more thorough washing you're giving them. Other distractions that may help include light conversation or playing their favorite music while they bathe.

  • If you are giving your loved one sponge baths in their bed, there are no-rinse soaps and shampoos available that make this task a little easier. Be aware, they will still need to rinse off occasionally to remove residue.

  • Home care agencies can provide assistance with bathing. You may find the best option for you and your loved one is to handle the day-to-day washing yourselves and have a home care aide come in a couple times a week to take care of the more thorough bathing.

Dressing Tips

As your loved one ages, they may start having trouble manipulating buttons or zippers, or may have trouble maintaining their balance. If that happens, they may need assistance with getting dressed. Here are some tips to help you aid your loved one while helping them maintain a sense of independence.

  • Help your loved one retain their personal sense of style and taste in clothing. It may be a little bit easier for you to help them slide into a pair of sweatpants, but if they have never owned a pair, they probably don't want to start now. Unless there is a medically indicated reason, don't push your personal preferences or styles onto your loved one.

  • Allow your loved one to dress themselves as much as possible and only step in to assist when needed. It might take a little longer, but it will help them retain a sense of independence and will help keep the situation from becoming stressful or confrontational.

  • If your loved one suffers from arthritis in their hands or is less nimble in their fingers, they may have trouble with buttons or zippers. These can be replaced with Velcro, which will allow your loved one to continue self-dressing for a bit longer. Elastic waist bands make pants easier to put on. V-neck sweaters or a cardigan also are easier to slip on than a crewneck sweater.

  • If your loved one has dementia, they may have some trouble with decision making. Rather than asking "what do you want to wear today?" give limited options, such as "do you want to wear the blue shirt or the yellow shirt today?" (This also eliminates the option of not getting dressed at all).

  • It's always a little harder to put the second arm into a shirt or jacket, so be sure to start with your loved one's weaker arm. That way, you avoid putting too much stress on the weak arm. When removing the shirt or jacket, start with the stronger arm.

  • If your loved one wears compression socks, there are some simple tricks to getting them on more easily. Put your hand into the sock until you touch the toe, then turn half of the sock inside out. Place the sock over your loved one's toe and slide the sock over the heel. Gently slide the rest of the sock up the leg until it's in position. You may find it's easier to get a grip on the sock if you wear rubber gloves.Dressing Tips

Using Technology

Using Computers

For much of the world, computers are a necessity in everyday life. But for our older loved ones, computers can provoke anxiety, hostility and resistance. To some older adults, learning how to use a computer can seem like a very daunting task, but there are benefits to embracing the technology and using the computer. Here are some helpful tips to get them started:

  • Share with your loved one of the benefits of using the computer. Email is a great way to communicate with the people they care about, especially if they live far away. Skype and other video messaging services provide an easy, inexpensive way for your loved one to see the people they love face-to-face. Facebook and other social media platforms can help them stay connected to family and community...and see photos of the grandkids!

  • If your loved one has trouble getting around, encourage them to try online shopping. Online shopping alleviates the need for them to go through the hassle of getting out to the store. Your loved one can purchase anything from groceries to clothes online. Just make sure that your loved one knows how to spot a scam and doesn't give their credit card information to any illegal or suspicious sites.

  • Buy a senior friendly computer for your loved one. Touch screen computers are helpful for seniors to navigate. Also consider getting a keyboard with extra-large keys and a light-weight mouse with multiple buttons and a scroll wheel. You may want to consider getting your loved one a tablet. They are very light-weight and easy for your loved one to carry.

  • If you don't feel equipped to teach your loved one to use the computer, implore the help of grandchildren. They'll be able to show your loved one all the basics of computer use, plus it's a good bonding activity. Your local senior center or public library may also offer computer classes; check them out if no grandkids are nearby.