Senior Nutrition Goes Beyond What’s on The Plate

Think about the last great meal you had. Did you eat your favorite food? Was it seasoned just the way you enjoy? Did you eat it in the company of family or friends? How people engage with food goes beyond checking the basics of nutritional needs – and for aging adults, the rich connections between food, community, and quality of life are essential.

Categories: Life at Restoracy

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Whether we’re celebrating, healing, or seeking comfort, food is a cornerstone of how people connect to one another, experience joy and comfort, and stay alive. Seniors largely have the same nutritional needs as other adults, but additional factors may challenge their ability to keep up with their needs. At home, in rehabilitation facilities, and long-term care settings aging adults deserve delicious, high quality meals shared with friends and loved ones. Meals that support their individual needs and preferences.


Changes Impacting Senior Nutrition

Decreased physical activity due to aging, mobility issues, and other health conditions change the nutritional needs of seniors. Along with health conditions like diabetes, renal (kidney) disease, and heart disease (among others), the medications used to manage some health conditions impact nutrition needs and restrictions. Physiological and psychological changes can result in seniors missing meals or choosing less nutritious foods for convenience. 

Many aging adults face social isolation and depression as their independence and social circles wane.  Living alone and limiting driving (or not driving at all) creates a barrier to social connection which plays a role in appetite and enjoyment of food. Physical challenges may include decreased sense of thirst, chewing and swallowing problems, and loss of coordination and strength. These may be difficult for seniors to identify and accommodate on their own.

An often overlooked change as adults age includes managing food and personal safety in the kitchen. This may lead to more preference for convenience foods (typically higher in sugar and sodium) or exposure to foodborne pathogens seniors’ immune systems find difficult to fight. 

An essential part of maintaining independence and quality of life for aging adults includes providing tailored solutions. It’s a tall order to balance nutrient dense foods with dietary restrictions, flavor, feeding ability, and safety.


Challenges for Aging Adults in Rehab and Long-Term Care

The challenge of meeting the physical, social, and emotional needs of seniors when it comes to food in rehab and long-term care settings often leaves some important parts out.  With large populations to serve, most facilities don’t offer fully  customized options or take into account dietary preferences – often only meeting basic health requirements like providing low-sodium, diabetic, pureed, and allergy conscious options. 

Residents in large facilities rarely have the opportunity to request changes to the menu, express preferences, or have foods special to them included on the menu. The impersonal, cafeteria-style of food service reduces the appeal and enjoyment of shared meals with dozens of other residents a loved one may or may not know well. Time and staffing considerations also impact the amount of effort committed to meal experiences, reducing opportunities for aging adults who need accommodations like a finger foods diet – extending self-feeding capability and independence through meals incorporating foods that are easy to eat with your fingers in a dignified way.  


Restoring Joy, Community, and Health

None of these challenges are difficult to solve. But they do require a commitment to seeing rehabilitation and long-term care residents as individuals worthy of dignity, respect, and inclusion in decisions impacting their lives. Quality of life improvements and fostering continued independence through food rely on flexibility, connection with residents, and ongoing education for dietitians and cooks at senior care facilities.

Concerns about how and what loved ones will eat are top of mind for many families. At the Restoracy, families have access to Katie Galvin, the  team’s registered dietitian nutritionist, to ask specific questions, make requests, or discuss their loved ones’ dietary needs.

Katie shares, “Since we have created our own customized menu, the RD [registered dietitian] can easily change meals or food items according to the resident’s feedback for the next menu cycle rather than having to go through a corporate entity.”  

Because meal prep happens inside each home’s open plan kitchen and residents offer suggestions to help to build the menus, flexibility is at the center of the food experience at the Restoracy. Over 20 different foods are always available making it easy for seniors to tailor their menu.

“Food has the power to impact us on a level deeper than just our physical well being. What we eat can reconnect us to precious memories. And I hope that some of the meals we make here can do that for the residents and bring a smile to their face,”  adds Caitlyn, one of the cooks supporting residents at the Restoracy.

Katie adds that providing ongoing training for cooks keeps the team growing with the latest information on recipe development, techniques, and meal preparation. Keeping up to date with the latest information helps the team provide novelty, engage residents’ senses, and grow the joy and connections in each home through food.


The Restoracy Approach

Our mission is to restore health, dignity, and familiarity through rehabilitation, long-term, and memory care services in a home-like setting. The Restoracy redefines senior care with 12 residents per home, private rooms, inviting and vibrant living spaces, and the best caregiver to resident ratios in Indiana. 

Bring your questions and take a tour with us. We can’t wait to see you.


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