Family Caregiver Food Safety Tips from Detective Foodsafe™

September is National Food Safety Education Month. We have an expert who will share how to keep family caregivers and your loved ones safe from food poisoning (and everyone who wants to avoid becoming the victim of food borne illness).

Detective Foodsafe™ explores the mysteries of food contamination and food handling mishaps that can happen when you least expect it. Her mission is to keep everyone safe from the dangers of foodborne illness.

Detective Foodsafe will help family caregivers not only ensure that seniors are eating right, but also avoid becoming victims of food poisoning (foodborne illness).

We are all concerned about eating foods that are healthy and provide nourishment for our bodies. As we age, we definitely want to eat foods that will keep us well and manage our chronic medical conditions.

Seniors are already at increased risk from contracting foodborne illness due to suppressed immune systems, medications and chronic diseases. How their food is handled can add to the danger.

Why Are Seniors at Risk?

It is important to understand the full effect of foodborne illness on our senior population so family caregivers know how vital it is to prevent it.

For younger adults, they may suffer a gastrointestinal illness (albeit a terrible experience), but for older adults, hospitalization and even death could be the outcome when they contract food poisoning. Seniors are more susceptible to complications resulting from foodborne illness.

When seniors eat foods that may contain harmful bacteria, it takes their gastrointestinal system longer to expel it. Excretion of food through the stomach and intestines takes longer as we age. This allows more time for harmful pathogens to infect seniors.

In addition to the timing of the GI tract, a seniors’ liver and kidneys may not be functioning as efficiently as in the past resulting in a reduced ability to clear the body of toxins which cause food poisoning.

Older adults’ bodies are more susceptible to the effects of microorganisms and have a more difficult time fighting illness. Because immune systems are also aging, they may be weakened therefore less able to mount a strong defense.

Seniors with multiple chronic diseases including diabetes, kidney and heart disease have more trouble responding to food pathogens.

Multiple medications, especially those designed to reduce stomach acid (which can reduce the amount of harmful bacteria in the GI tract), can make matters worse for seniors.

When seniors do contract foodborne illness, not only do they get sicker, they also take longer to recover than a younger person.

Even though food that is contaminated with harmful bacteria does not taste, smell or look different, seniors often have a decreased sense of taste and smell which can impact their ability to distinguish when a food may be spoiled and potentially unfit to eat.

Foods Seniors Should Avoid

“There are several foods that can make seniors ill and it is best to avoid them” says Detective Foodsafe.

Foods that are more prone to microorganism contamination are:

  • Sprouts
  • Unwashed raw fruits and vegetables
  • Soft cheese, made from unpasteurized milk like brie, Camembert, feta, queso fresco
  • Raw or unpasteurized milk and juice
  • Raw or under cooked meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs
  • Luncheon meat and deli salads
  • Unpasteurized pates and meat spreads

What Caregivers Can Do

Family caregivers can take action to prevent food poisoning occurring in their senior loved ones.

Detective Foodsafe recommends you do these things:

  1. Look in the kitchen pantry and refrigerator to see if there is any spoiled or expired food that needs to be tossed out every time you visit. Sometimes the print is too small for seniors to read and they don’t realize it is expired or that it is important to throw out foods that have passed the Use By date.
  2. Encourage frequent handwashing; launder kitchen cloths and towels in hot water regularly
  3. Monitor their ability to prepare foods safely. Can they wash all fruits and vegetables before eating or keep the equipment/surfaces disinfected? A functional decline in some seniors may mean that they aren’t physically able to handle food and meal preparation safely anymore.
  4. Purchase ergonomic kitchen gadgets that can make it easier to work in the kitchen to handle food safely. Vegetable brushes or knives that can be held onto with stiff fingers, foods within reach so that they aren’t left to spoil, magnifying glass to read labels for expiration dates and other products that might make working in the kitchen easier and safer.
  5. Encourage them to abandon lifelong habits of keeping butter and cheese (and other perishable foods) out on the counter.
  6. Be sure the microwave is working correctly heating thoroughly so that they can reheat leftovers and fully cook food to a safe internal temperature to kill bacteria. Do they have a food thermometer they can read easily to check for doneness? A digital thermometer may be easier to read than a dial version.
  7. Foods they bring home from restaurants in a doggy bag should be refrigerated promptly (within 2 hours) and heated thoroughly before eating.
  8. When using home delivered meals, be sure all food is stored promptly at the proper temperature so that it won’t reach the temperature danger zone where bacteria grows rapidly. Always reheat any delivered meals to 165 degrees F to be sure bacteria is destroyed.
  9. Check the functioning of the refrigerator and freezer to be sure they are chilling food to the proper temperature. Repair or replace any units that are not keeping food safe. Keep a thermometer inside both the refrigerator and freezer to be sure it is working properly.

Family caregivers can be Detective Foodsafe germ fighters helping reduce the likelihood that their seniors will become victims of foodborne illness.

You can check out more Detective Foodsafe tips and resources here.

Choosing Snacks Seniors Will Eat and That Meet Their Nutrition Needs

Family caregivers visiting their senior loved ones enjoy bringing them something to eat, not only to show their love but also to encourage them to eat.

Many seniors begin to have diminished appetites — whether from boredom, lack of activity, or changes in their sensation of taste — making all foods taste unfamiliar.

When they are left to eat the food someone else makes for them, whether a family or paid caregiver or in a facility, they tend to eat less and less.

It doesn’t matter if they are home getting delivered meals from an organization, living in a facility that supplies their meals in a congregate dining area, or in their room, or trying to prepare their own convenience items at home. They aren’t getting all the nutrition they need.

For many that is a real problem that can affect their nutritional health, physical health, and even their mood.

Caregivers can help fill the gap!

When Aging Changes Nutritional Needs

Seniors nutritional needs change as they age and caregivers can help them meet their needs with a few interventions.

While aging often means fewer calories may be needed, all the nutrients are still in demand by their bodies and some are more essential than ever for bone health, heart health and brain health.

Here are some things that happen which can change what and how much your senior loved one eats:

  1. As they age, chronic diseases can impact their health and how and what they eat. They may be restricting their food intake based on what they have been told years ago about a particular disease, such as heart disease or diabetes, to the point that they are limiting the nutrients they include — many are over-restricting what they eat.
  2. Difficulty with their teeth and gums can affect what food choices they make. Meats are usually the first foods to go when chewing becomes a problem. Whether it is because of poor dentition, poorly fitting dentures, gum disease, mouth sores, dry mouth or missing teeth or due to cognitive loss, chewing nutrient rich foods can be difficult.
  3. Medications can result in increased nutritional needs or a change in eating. Some medications can inhibit their appetite or increase their appetite to the point of poor food choices out of convenience and speed. Some medications cause dry mouth. Some can cause whole groups of foods, such as leafy green vegetables, from being cut out of the diet.
  4. Intake of the nutrients of concern as people age are often under consumed (or poorly absorbed) including calcium, B vitamins, and protein.
  5. Aging skin is not as productive at producing Vitamin D to help keep bones strong. Added to a decrease in dairy intake, for those worried about lactose intolerance, a weakening of bones that lead to fractures can occur.
  6. Decreased ability to absorb specific nutrients like B12 due to gastric acid secretion and the effects of drugs, such as antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPI), used to control stomach acid.
  7. Excessive alcohol intake can cause nutrients that are eaten not to be absorbed properly or the person to eat less, putting them at risk for malnutrition.
  8. Finances can also change what your senior feels comfortable buying when they grocery shop. Cheaper, less nutritious, foods may become staples instead of often more expensive fresh foods.
  9. Functional status can impact what seniors eat as they are less able to shop, prepare and even eat the meals they need for health. Fatigue can limit their ability to cook for themselves. Grief or depression can also impact their desire to make their own meals or eat alone.
  10. Lack of desire for the meals served in the facility or by home delivery. Some seniors are often uninterested in the foods they are given or just want to choose their meals. When this is not the case, they often refuse to eat. Many seniors just want foods they remember or grew up eating which may not be what’s on the menu where they live. They may even have lost some of their sense of taste or smell, which could make meals less than satisfying. Some may want to cook their own food as they once did.

Snacks for Seniors

Family caregivers can supplement the meals their senior’s choose to eat with nutrient dense snacks.

It is important to remember that some snacks should be tailored to their individual needs if they have a medical condition such as diabetes or trouble chewing, so be aware of any chronic condition they may have.

Snacks that are high in salt, sugar, fat or excess calories without nutrition should be avoided.

Here are some examples of nutritious snacks your senior may like:

  • Greek yogurt with fruit
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Sandwiches made with deli meat like chicken breast or salads like chicken salad
  • Granola bars especially softer varieties such as Nutrigrain or KIND nut butter bars or breakfast bars
  • Fruit or fruit/vegetable juice blend beverages
  • Nuts or trail mix
  • Vegetables (parboil the veggies if they have trouble chewing raw) and dip
  • Smoothie or milkshake with fruit/vegetables
  • Pudding or gelatin snack cups
  • Fruit cups packed in their own juice
  • String cheese sticks
  • Raisins, yogurt covered raisins, craisins, dates, or figs
  • Real fruit snacks
  • Peanut butter and crackers
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Stewed prunes, dried fruit such as apricots
  • Fig newtons
  • Hummus and pita
  • Homemade leftover dinner (small portion)
  • Custard
  • Ice cream or fruit juice bar
  • Cottage cheese and fruit
  • Sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • Wheat or fruit muffins
  • Glass of chocolate milk or buttermilk
  • Oatmeal cookies
  • Bowl of cereal or oatmeal with berries
  • Avocado on toast
  • Pate on crackers
  • Nutritional supplement including fortified fruit juice or clear supplement for a change

If you are bringing snacks to a facility, check ahead to be sure any perishable food can have refrigeration if they don’t eat it quickly.

Tips for Improved Nutrition In a Care Facility

When your senior loved one is living in a care facility and you are worried they may not be eating enough of the most nutritious foods, bringing some of these snacks with you whenever you visit will greatly increase their intake.

  1. The foods that are perishable should be eaten while you are there and disposed of by you to prevent food poisoning. Be sure the snacks you bring are healthy and will not spoil if left on the counter or bedside table until your next visit.
  2. Sit with your senior while they snack. Many seniors don’t eat as much because they are often eating by themselves and need someone with whom to socialize while they eat.
  3. Take the opportunity to observe them eating. Are they having a problem with the teeth or swallowing that might need an evaluation? Is the food consistency still appropriate or would soft, even chopped food be better tolerated?
  4. Are they drinking enough fluids? Offer them a beverage or simply a glass of water while you visit.
  5. Do they need a multivitamin or supplement to help them get all the nutrition they need or perhaps a short term appetite stimulant to get them back on the right track?
  6. It might be a good time to discuss their medical diet with the staff. Determine if it is still needed so that you can advocate for your senior to reducing their restrictive diet which might be inhibiting a good appetite. You can also discuss with the healthcare team if a possible drug review is appropriate to see if there are any changes that can be made to improve their appetite, eating or reduce any food-drug interactions.
  7. If your senior is not eating the facility food, perhaps it is time to talk with the staff to see what can be done to offer alternates at meals or find ways to increase the seasoning in the food to make it more palatable. Maybe the food isn’t as hot as they prefer and a change in meal time or location (in main dining room versus their room) would help. Perhaps they would eat better if their food could be prepared for them to pick up instead of using a utensil, this is known as finger foods.

Poor nutrition can lead to functional decline, increased falls, loss of muscle, weakened bones and a reduced quality of life for our seniors.

It couldn’t hurt to include bringing healthy snacks every visit to encourage your senior’s appetite and can potentially improve their well-being.



Eating Well While Growing Older – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

As we age, many older adults tend to change the way they eat. This change may be intentional for many and while for others it is done unknowingly.

Many will eat less thinking their bodies don’t need as much food because they aren’t as physically active as they once were.

This way of thinking may be true for overall number of calories but not for nutritional content.

Some older adults experience more trouble with chewing and swallowing foods when they eat, taste foods differently, don’t feel like preparing meals for one, feel lonesome during meal times, fear ‘healthier’ foods are too expensive, or overly restrict what they eat because they are trying to control a chronic disease.

One or all of these reasons may be influencing what your senior loved one is eating (or not eating) and impacting not only their health but, also unknowingly, their quality of life.

Caregivers can help by identifying potential gaps in their senior loved ones’ nutrition and then filling those gaps for their health.

Aging and Impaired Nutrition

A large percentage of older adults (those over 65) have multiple chronic diseases that can affect their nutritional status. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), 80% of seniors have at least one chronic disease and 77% have two or more.

A poor diet while aging can lead to frailty which results in becoming nutritionally compromised, making it harder for older adults to fight sickness or stress. Reduced muscle mass leading to impaired functional status and even malnutrition (undernutrition) can also occur.

A loss of muscle mass and strength can lead to falls. A senior falls every 11 seconds. Unfortunately, falls are the leading cause of fractures, head trauma, hospitalization and injury deaths for older adults, per the NCOA.

Cognitive impairment can worsen nutritional health because unintentional weight loss is common in those with dementia. Lower food intake, increased physical movement (pacing, etc.), reduced resting energy expenditure (metabolism), or a combination contribute to weight loss and impaired nutrition.

Getting enough healthy food, especially foods that include protein and essential nutrients, such as calcium and B vitamins, can make independence harder to maintain as our senior loved ones age.

Caregivers Can Help

Older adults may need help staying healthy, especially when their appetites begin to wane.

Family caregivers can help older adults stay on track, eat nutrient dense foods, shop for healthy foods on a budget, and facilitate putting meals on the table when they can’t always do it for themselves.

Here are ways family caregivers can help seniors eating well everyday from the National Institute of Aging and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (association of Registered Dietitians). Get them to…

  1. Eat a variety of foods from all food groups, don’t skip important foods
  2. Choose fruits and vegetables at each meal. Use fresh, frozen, or canned to stay in budget and make preparation as easy as possible.
  3. Eat a rainbow of foods to get the maximum amounts of essential vitamins and minerals.
  4. Include whole grains, protein, and dairy foods at each meal.
  5. Drink plenty of fluids, including water. As we age, our sense of thirst diminishes so we need to drink often. Avoid sugar sweetened beverages.
  6. Invite friends and families to share a meal to reduce loneliness and boredom. Most seniors will eat more when they have someone join them.
  7. Flavor food with herbs and spices instead of salt. The tastier a food is, the more they may eat.
  8. If dental problems are keeping your senior from eating a variety of foods, it is time for a dental checkup.
  9. If they aren’t eating enough, talk with the doctor about starting a nutritional/vitamin/mineral supplement.

Additional Resources

Caregivers can get creative when helping seniors eat a more nutritious diet.

Here are more ways you can help your senior avoid malnutrition that could keep them from aging in place successfully.



Healthy Eating for Those with Diabetes — a Diabetes Month Discussion

Diabetes affects millions of Americans. In fact, 1 in 4 older adults has diabetes.

To commemorate National Diabetes Month, it is important to remember the impact of healthy eating on the management of diabetes for our senior loved ones.

Some of us may think that older adults can eat whatever they desire because they have earned the right with age to do so.

Unfortunately, what they eat influences their health. Managing blood sugar and diabetes involves a complete treatment plan including eating healthy.

Seniors will be putting their health and successful aging at risk when they don’t find ways to improve their diet.

Diabetic Diets Are Not Easy

Following a diabetic diet is not the easiest thing in the world, nor is it the most difficult. The alternative is constantly elevated blood sugar, potentially needing more medications and more frequent hospitalizations. When blood sugar fluctuates throughout the day everyday due to poor management, feeling bad all the time becomes the norm.

Who wants to feel bad every day?

Sometimes eating better to control blood sugar isn’t the only thing the doctor will prescribe. For some seniors, losing weight is also on the agenda.

Those two can go hand in hand!

When following a restricted diet for weight loss or just to control blood sugar, it is important to avoid shortchanging nutrition, which can lead to poorer health.

Slow, steady weight loss and a varied diet is the key to health.

Which Diet Is Best for Your Senior?

Everyone with a diagnosis of diabetes should be following some type of ‘diet.’ Does that mean they have to weigh and measure every bite eaten? No!

Being knowledgeable about what will work best for your senior loved one and how you as a caregiver can support them in their diabetes journey is desirable instead of being overly restrictive, which often leads to non-adherence.

Sometimes the most challenging part of eating well to control diabetes for many seniors is making changes to lifelong habits. Throwing out all their favorite foods and pushing unfamiliar foods on them won’t work.

There are several eating patterns (diets) that are built upon science and health outcomes and some that are just hype, with short term success but unsustainable for most seniors (and the rest of us).

Many popular diets are based on excluding large groups of foods, such as carbs or white foods. This may mean your senior loved one is also leaving out important nutrients for which their body hungers. This can be dangerous for them and not helpful for controlling their diabetes.

There are several more healthful approaches that will lead to positive benefits and success.

Top 5 Eating Plans for Diabetes

Madelyn Fernstrom, founding director of the UPMC-University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Weight Management Center has reviewed forty diet programs to determine if they meet the nutritional needs and contain appropriate science-based components within the framework of the particular program and if the diets are safe. You can find the entire article here which details what works and what doesn’t which eat of the top diets or eating plans.

The best diets for healthy eating from her review have been ranked with a score from 1 to 5 for nutritional content and safety based on their effectiveness to prevent or maintain diabetes.

The highest marks went to Mediterranean, DASH, Flexitarian, Mayo Clinic, and Weight Watchers meal programs.

“The ones that get high scores in safety and in nutritional value — they’re very similar to each other”.

All these diets are similar in the fact that they are largely plant based, with lean protein, healthy fats, whole grains, and occasional treats. They also all stress the importance of regular physical activity as a part of the plan.

  1. Mediterranean – an eating pattern based on lean protein, limited red meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats such as olive oil, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seasonings instead of salt, fish, and seafood a few times a week, cheese/eggs/milk/poultry in moderation, and limit sweets. Filling up on fiber from whole grains and plants will help with weight control.
  2. DASH – (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) encourages eating fruits/vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy foods while discouraging foods high in saturated fat like red meat, full-fat dairy, tropical oils, and sugar sweetened foods and beverages. Small daily changes, such as adding a fruit or vegetable per meal, using seasonings instead of salt, and avoiding added sugars, is the basis of this eating plan so that it can be sustainable.
  3. A tie: Flexitarian – a flexible plan, vegetarian at its core. Like the other plans, it emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains packed with fiber, non-meat protein, dairy, and seasonings. You should eat more vegetables than meat. The total plan generally totals 1,500 calories a day with 300 calories at Breakfast, 400 at lunch and 500 at dinner. There are also two snacks during the day with 150 calories each. Mayo Clinic – this plan helps to replace poor eating habits with better ones and includes fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats while avoiding added sugar. You should eat lower calorie foods to feel full. No counting calories but food selections are important; also no eating in front of the TV, portion control, limited dining out, and making healthy habits part of your routine. Weight Watchers – this meal plan is structured with point counting. Each food has designated points that add up to a daily allotment. On the newest program, many foods are 0 points, including fruits and vegetables. There is support for your changes in the form of in-person or online health guides. It is up to the person to choose wisely.

The lower scoring diets were often too restrictive, lacking in essential nutrients or cooked in such a way that would make them unsafe.

All healthy diabetes treatment plans include physical activity. Don’t overlook activity as an important part of your senior’s daily routine.

If your senior loved one suffers from diabetes and has been told to lose some weight or do more to control their blood sugar through a healthy eating plan, seek sound medical advice from your doctor or registered dietitian to help plan a meal program that will continue to help manage blood sugar, control weight and provide all the essential nutrients needed everyday.

Don’t gamble with their health.



Medicaid Recipients Fall Short in Getting Needed Nutrition

Medicaid is the largest provider of health insurance for low-income people — children, adults and seniors, as well as those with disabilities.

It is a vital service for 1 in 5 Americans or 66 million people. Of these, 4.6 million are low-income seniors (also enrolled in Medicare, known as dually covered).

New research shows that these individuals have significant food insecurity challenges to overcome.

Because older adults can already be at a disadvantage due to limiting factors of chronic disease, fixed incomes, lack of transportation, or declining functional abilities, that those who qualify for assistance through Medicaid face additional challenges securing healthy food that impacts their well-being is unfortunate and upsetting.

Vulnerable Population of Seniors

Researchers from the Root Cause Coalition found that Medicaid beneficiaries struggle to purchase food in general and even more so when selecting healthier options.

They surveyed over 1,000 Medicaid recipients aging from 18-80 years and found:

28% of Medicaid beneficiaries purchase less food than they need due to financial problems.

32% purchase less healthy food due to lack of money

27% report they worry their food will run out before they get money to buy more

43% of Medicaid members say they often skip at least one meal a day. However, participants report that they want to improve their overall health and nutritional habits, as well as reduce their weight through diet.

38% of Medicaid members say their health is excellent, 28% have high blood pressure, and 34% say they feel stress when shopping for food.

67% say this stress is directly related to the price of food.

Insufficient Nutrition Education is Key

Education appears to be a key for improvement in this group, as it is for most of the general population. While recipients report discussing their health and eating habits with their doctor, only 32% say they can name a food or nutrient that will help their most pressing health concern.

Doctors can provide some guidance, but the researchers found that only 59% of recipients got this information. When they did receive nutritional advice from their healthcare provider, 79% report making changes to their eating habits.

Because nutrition-related health conditions are more prevalent in this population, much more education is needed. We recommend this health information comes from registered dietitians who are experts in counseling people to make health changes based on science and tailoring the information to the needs and culture of the person in their care.

Experts find that 1 in 2 seniors are at risk for or are already malnourished. Seniors who are food insecure have more emergency department visits, require more hospitalizations, and spend longer in the hospital when ill.

The unfortunate truth is that seniors with low incomes who qualify for Medicaid are making tough choices between purchasing food and basic necessities. They are more likely to experience health problems that require medical services with little income to pay for these services, including doctor visits and prescriptions.

Nutrition Education to Help Seniors

This isn’t meant to make caregivers afraid for the health of their senior loved ones but instead to recognize that their older adult may need more help and guidance to remain healthy.

Determining if a senior will meet eligibility requirements to become a beneficiary of Medicaid is a good first step. Each state is different when it comes to providing Medicaid. It is best to check with an elder law attorney or other expert to discuss their options and eligibility status.

If your senior loved one is financially unable to provide for their medical and living expenses, it might help them fill the gap.

After you take this step, it is important to help keep them healthy through improving their food choices. Almost anyone can make choices to allow them to eat better on a limited income or food budget.

If you need more information, we encourage you to seek out a registered dietitian to help them choose healthier foods to manage chronic disease and avoid functional decline from poor nutrition.

Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

  1. Plan meals ahead and use a grocery list to reduce impulse purchases. Keep a list all week so you buy what you need.
  2. Shop with the sales. Help your senior plan a week’s menus based on the items for sale in their grocery store each week. Buying food when it is discounted will help them get more for their money. Look for frozen vegetables on sale and stock up to eat when fresh is too expensive.
  3. Buy fresh produce in season. Avoiding watermelon during the winter and oranges in the summer when these items are not at their most abundant and therefore affordable can avoid driving up up the cost of food. Pick fruit and vegetables in season, experimenting with varieties they may never have tried before like acorn squash in the winter or fresh spinach in the summer.
  4. Use coupons for the items regularly purchaseed and pick generic items that are usually cheaper per ounce than name brands. Carefully compare prices before using the coupon, sometimes the store brand is cheaper even when you have a coupon. Learn how to read the unit pricing on the shelf, sometimes bigger or even on sale isn’t the cheapest per ounce.
  5. Prepare your own foods. Buying foods already made, pre-cut and processed increases the price per portion of meals. Cut your own fruit, portion your own fresh snacks like apple wedges instead of grabbing salty snacks and cook your own meals.
  6. Substitute lower cost proteins instead of eliminating protein from the diet. Use eggs, peanut butter, Greek yogurt, dry beans, cottage cheese, and nuts in the place of expensive cuts of beef or pork.
  7. Don’t overbuy and eat what you have on hand before it expires. Food waste will harm your budget causing you to throw away money. Use a first in – first out strategy to store foods so that you use up food before it spoils.
  8. Include whole grains in meal planning because rice and pasta are budget friendly, as is oatmeal.
  9. Skip snack foods, soda, and candy which add cost and calories but few nutrients!

Healthy Advice for Seniors and Caregivers

It is important for successful aging in place for seniors to do the following to maintain their health:

  • Don’t skip meals
  • Choose healthy, nutrient rich foods
  • Exercise daily especially strength and balance activities to help prevent falls and maintain functional abilities
  • Eat balanced meals that include protein to maintain strong muscles
  • Drink enough water each day for proper hydration
  • Get regular dental visits for tooth care (poor dental quality negatively affects eating)

Family caregivers can help their older adults achieve optimal health when we pay attention to what is in the cupboard and on their plate!

10 Cancer Prevention Tips Based on Trusted Research

We used to call it the “Big C.” The word cancer put fear into our hearts!

Cancer is a group of diseases, not one particular kind. It is characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells in the body. This unchecked growth can lead to death. The treatment is directed at removing or stopping the spread of these malignant cells.

We know a lot more about cancer prevention and see cure as expected in most cases, though not nearly all.

The cause of cancer is not always known but the risk factors are more clear. Many are modifiable through lifestyle changes.

As of January 2016, there were 15.5 million people with a history of cancer and still alive (survivors). Cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the US after heart disease.

The evidence that we should put into practice the latest recommendations has been called by experts and researchers to be “compelling.” That is a pretty serious word in the scientific community and not used lightly.

The American Cancer Society estimates that at least 42% of newly diagnosed cancers are preventable with lifestyle behavior change.

Some of these recommendations we have heard for many years over and over again. But, when will we take heed and begin to actually make the necessary changes for our overall health and in particular, to prevent cancer?

Hopefully now!

These are admittedly simple steps that we can all begin taking toward health.

Family caregivers can encourage and intervene to help their senior loved ones adopt some of these guidelines for a healthier lifestyle. You are never too old for health!

Latest Cancer Research

Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective report produced by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) is described as the most comprehensive scientific report to date.

Here are their key findings:

  1. Being overweight or obese is a cause of 12 cancers. There appears to be an overwhelming link between body fat and cancer.
  2. Drinking alcohol is a cause of six cancers, even one glass of alcohol a day can increase your risk of getting some cancers.
  3. Physical activity can help protect you from 3 cancers and also helps you manage your weight. Activity can give powerful protection against cancer development.
  4. Healthy eating can reduce cancer risk as well as aiding weight management.
  5. Lifestyle factors can also impact survival rates after a cancer diagnosis including the effect of the cancer treatment.

Caregivers’ Tips for Cancer Prevention

Here are the latest guidelines for prevention backed by scientific evidence that we can all follow – caregivers and seniors.

AICR/WCRF Cancer Prevention Recommendations:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight – stay within the healthy range and preferably at the lower end of the Body Mass Index (BMI) chart range and avoid weight gain in adult life. Body fat triggers hormones that can produce cancer growth.
  2. Become and stay physically active – walk more, sit less every day. Exercise of 150 minutes of moderate activity a week can help keep hormone levels in check. Sitting for extended periods can increase cancer risk so get up every hour for a walk.
  3. Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans – plant foods rich in fiber and nutrients reduce the risk of cancer. Plant foods also contain phytochemicals which protect cells from damage.
  4. Limit fast foods and other processed foods which are high in fat, starches or sugars – also helps manage weight.
  5. Limit red and processed meat – eat only moderate amounts of red meat, pork and lamb and limit processed meat. More than 12-18 ounces of red meat (considered a moderate amount) shows convincing evidence of increasing colorectal cancer risk.
  6. Limit sugar sweetened drinks – choose water or unsweetened drinks. Helps with weight management.
  7. Limit alcohol consumption – despite potential protective effect against heart disease, evidence is clear that alcohol in any form is linked to cancer.
  8. Do not use supplements for cancer prevention – a healthy diet and other lifestyle factors are more beneficial. Some high dose supplements can increase risk for cancer.
  9. Breastfeed your baby if you can – evidence that breastfeeding can protect mother against breast cancer.
  10. After a cancer diagnosis and treatment: follow these recommendations.

Fighting to Prevent Cancer

Prevention is the first step to fight cancer. These lifestyle changes are imperative for our health.

Avoiding smoking and time in the sun unprotected are also ways you can reduce your risk of cancer.

It is also vital to participate in early screening tests to detect cancer and get treatment for a cure.

We can’t prevent all cancers, but given the devastating effect they can have, both on those afflicted and their loved ones, we should do all we can for prevention and early screening to get treatment to be survivors.

9 Wheelchair Tips for Seniors’ Safety — Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Family caregivers are responsible for many things requiring skills that they may never have had to use before and may be wondering what is the best way to accomplish certain tasks.

Caring for a wheelchair may be one of those things.

Often we are learning about wheelchairs at the same time as our senior loved one, so they are unable to direct us based on their experience.

That does not, of course, reduce our desire to care for them and their well-being as we care for their wheelchairs.

Tips for Safe Wheelchair Use

It isn’t enough just to push your senior loved one here and there, out in the community, or just inside the house from room to room.

Caregivers want to be sure that the wheelchair their senior loved ones use is safe and in good working condition.

There are many ways for wheelchairs to wear out or be used in such a way that harm could occur. In fact, in 2016, almost 18% of all wheelchair users were injured in a wheelchair-related accident and 44-57% reported a wheelchair breakdown. Worse yet, 20-30% of those with a breakdown were stranded at or away from home.

Here are a few tips for wheelchair safety:

  1. Check the wheels regularly – ensure the wheels aren’t loose or have flat tires, which may impact its braking ability. Don’t forget the spokes, as broken spokes can keep the chair from moving freely. In addition, keep the spokes clear of obstructions, such as lap blankets.
  2. Keep the wheels well-oiled for proper functioning.
  3. Check the brakes often to be sure they still lock tightly to prevent accidents. Always lock brakes before transferring your senior in and out of chair!
  4. Don’t overload the chair with heavy bags, especially on the back, which could cause it to tip over.
  5. If the wheelchair is battery powered, inspect the system for safety and keep it out of the rain. Check the speed and reprogram it to a lower rate for safety if needed.
  6. Don’t allow children to play on wheelchairs.
  7. Keep the chair clean, including chair seat, arms, and wheels, to prevent the spread of germs and prolong its life.
  8. Pay close attention to the surface on which your senior is riding to prevent tipping over due to cracks or holes in pavement or any change in grade, including carpeting.
  9. Be aware of people nearby (not to mention small pets) so that they don’t get run over, causing injury to them or the senior in the wheelchair.

You may want to keep the owner’s manual handy in case service or warranty information is required.

Using a wheelchair can be vital to seniors who have difficulty walking or have limited stamina so that they can stay engaged in the community and socialized with those they love.

Keeping the wheelchair in good working order will help you keep them safe and them a part of the action!

Additional Resources

Those tips are a quick snapshot about caring for a wheelchair but here are a few more articles you might find informative.



Senior Hunger & Food Insecurity — What Family Caregivers Can Do

A continuing obstacle to staying healthy for seniors who age in place is food insecurity.

Family caregivers worry their senior loved ones may not be eating right but some, especially those who are long distance carers, may not realize how serious a problem they may be facing.

Worse, that this problem may be beyond their control without a little help from others.

Having food insecurity is not the same thing as senior hunger, although one can lead to the other. Hunger is a physical symptom of pain when there isn’t adequate food consumption which is usually temporary.

What is food insecurity?

Food insecurity is not having access to a sufficient quantity of wholesome, nutritious food that is affordable. It is a cultural, social and financial state which is often permanent.

Factors Contributing to Food Insecurity

It is estimated by the 2010 census that as many as 24 million people in households over 40 years old have some degree of food insecurity.

A major obstacle to accessing healthy food for many of our senior loved ones is money. Fixed incomes may not stretch to cover the cost of housing, medical care, medications, and food.

They may be forced to decide between prescriptions and food every month.

Maybe what they bought on their last shopping trip didn’t last until the next check arrived, so the funds weren’t sufficient to meet their eating needs. This could lead to skipped meals or eating smaller portions than they should for health.

Older adults may try to make their money go further, thinking that purchasing cheaper food will keep their budget in control. However, this means they are avoiding healthier food because it might be more expensive. Just having some food which isn’t nutritious enough to meet a senior’s physical needs isn’t the answer.

Another reason seniors may be food insecure is that they simply do not have healthy food sold near them. Perhaps they live in a rural area where the closest grocery store is too far from them. Sometimes living in a large, bustling city can also mean no grocery chains are close, instead only convenience foods sold in local markets or bodegas.

Areas without available healthy foods are known as food deserts.

Seniors may also have difficulty with transportation to go to and bring back healthy foods. They may no longer be able to drive and there may be no public transportation in their location. Paying for rides to get food could be out of question on a fixed income.

It is common sense that is proven by statistics – poorer people have more food insecurity.

Those living in the south also have higher food insecurity. This tends to illustrate the greatest problems resulting in food insecurity: economics and physical access due to geography.

So Many Affected by Hunger

Feeding America has created a map to help us all learn who is affected most by food insecurity and the number of people who are food insecure is shocking. This video explains more:

Older adults who receive SNAP (formerly called food stamps) have even higher levels of food insecurity according to an AARP 2015 Food Insecurity Among Older Adults Report.

Recently the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Study) study reported that SNAP participants were not choosing healthy foods and ate only 1.3 servings of fruits and vegetables (lower than recommendations of either 5 A Day or DASH plan of 7-9 per day) and drank more sugar sweetened beverages than others.

SNAP has no restrictions on the nutritional quality of the food purchased with the benefits.

Consequences of Food Insecurity for Seniors

Why should family caregivers be worried about food insecurity?

The AARP report finds that households suffering from food insecurity are more likely to have adults with long term physical health problems, higher numbers of chronic disease, and greater frequency of depression.

With chronic health conditions and increased medical needs as a result of poor nutrition, costs for healthcare increases leading to a downward spiral and less money for food.

Lack of adequate nutrition to maintain health is a challenge many older adults can’t overcome.

What Family Caregivers Can Do to Fill the Gap

Awareness of Food Insecurity

Family caregivers initially should observe whether or not your senior loved one is food insecure.

Ask yourself a few of these questions:

  1. Can they afford nutritious food in addition to costs of living and healthcare?
  2. If they have adequate funds, are they making healthy food choices?
  3. Can they get themselves to the grocery store, carry the food home, and prepare their own meals?
  4. Is healthy food accessible in their location or do they live in a food desert?
  5. Do they have a disability that compromises their ability to access healthy food?
  6. Does their mental status impede their self-care, that is, are they too depressed to care whether or not they eat?

Once you determine the prevalence of food insecurity and the potential root cause, it is time to take action.

Acting to Solve Food Insecurity

How can you help your senior overcome food insecurity?

Some solutions:

  • Complete the checkup to be sure your senior receives all the financial help the government has available for which your senior is eligible.
  • Food pantries or banks – are there any local food banks either operated by a faith-based organization or community agencies that your senior could use to fill the gaps?
  • Online grocery shopping and food delivery – can you help your senior who may be too far from the grocery store get food delivered via online company?
  • Food assistance via SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) – getting them in the system and their benefits could be something caregivers can facilitate for seniors
  • Get knowledge about which foods are healthy, how to make the most of your food budget and ways to manage or prevent chronic disease through healthy eating and encourage seniors to follow a healthier lifestyle
  • Arrange for a meal delivery system such as Meals on Wheels to get them a nutritious meal
  • Enroll them in a senior center near them to get more information on nutrition, companionship, socialization and a hot meal daily.
  • Bring them foods for their pantry or hot meals and schedule other family members to do the same.

Helping them get what they need to stay healthy is important for seniors to remain independent as they age.


May is Older Americans Month — Engage at Every Age!

May is the month that we celebrate aging!

Well, Senior Care Corner® celebrates aging year-round, but May is when the Administration on Aging leads a formal celebration each year.

The theme for this year’s celebration, the 55th annual celebration, is Engage at Every Age!

This year’s theme emphasizes that you are never too old (or young) to take part in activities that can enrich your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

It also celebrates the many ways in which older adults make a difference in our communities.

It is never to early – or too late — to get involved physically and socially to gain benefits.

Family caregivers know well the importance of staying active in all ways, especially physically and emotionally, with age and encourage their senior loved ones to stay engaged in their communities.

Age Your Way

If you have ever tried to get someone else to do something you want them to do but they do not, you will know how truly difficult that can be.

No one wants to listen to others, eat what they are told, or go to bed when they are told.

Most of us, including our senior loved ones, want to make our own decisions and do things in our own time. We may not object to what we are told, but aren’t ready to do it when asked.

It’s not unlike telling your young child to clean their room right now. Ok, they know they should pick things up off the floor and put the toys away, but they are doing something else and will do it later, in their own time. Seniors (and all of us) are no different.

Telling an older adult to become more active is another suggestion that won’t go over well, even though we all know by now how important physical activity is to our overall health and well-being.

It’s All in the Approach We Take

But what if family caregivers ask them what they enjoy and facilitate them in becoming active doing what they will love?

Instead of saying let’s go for a walk, find a park and take a nature walk with older adults who love the outdoors and bird watching. Bring a picnic basket with a healthy snack you can enjoy together.

Maybe your senior loved one likes music and dancing, maybe they would love to swim again, perhaps throwing a ball out in the yard or playing with the grandkids will finally get them off the couch.

Often incorporating some of their favorite things, perhaps things they have long forgotten they enjoyed, will make it easier to engage them in an activity to benefit their health.

Staying active can prevent depression and loneliness, improve memory and cognition, offer ways to socialize, and improve longevity through health.

Eat Your Way

Another way that seniors can age well is to eat a healthy diet.

Unfortunately, many seniors are not eating as well as they should to help them be healthy as they age.

Keeping their muscles strong, preventing falls, maintaining bone strength, managing chronic disease, and achieving a healthy weight are health goals that can be achieved with good eating.

Eating well isn’t glamorous and, for many older adults, it can be hard to achieve.

Perhaps they don’t believe they can afford healthy eating. Some seniors may have physical problems that interfere with shopping and cooking healthy. They may have functional limitations, tire easily, or vision problems that make it hard to prepare their meals. Maybe they don’t enjoy eating alone.

When convenience and low cost become the standard, nutrition suffers because these easy to prepare foods are generally lower in nutritional content. Cheaper foods are usually calorie dense rather than nutrient dense. This can mean seniors miss essential nutrition to help them age well. Eating nutrient dense foods should be the goal.

But again, who wants to be told what to eat when they think they are getting by alright at least in their own minds.

How Family Caregivers Can Help

There are many ways in which family caregivers can help and support senior loved ones in eating their way. Here are some things we hope will trigger ideas that can help your seniors.

  • Identifying problems with meal preparation that can be solved with modifications such as special tools and utensils, a chair in the kitchen to take a break, food and equipment in reach
  • Bringing meals to them to reduce their need to prepare their own, take them out to their favorite restaurant regularly or connect them with local meal delivery service
  • Planning to eat some meals with them or encourage family and friends to share meals so that you can reduce their loneliness and reduced intake that eating alone can cause.
  • Shopping with them to show them how they can buy healthy foods on their budget and skip the cheaper and nutritionally lacking foods, check their pantry to be sure healthy foods are available
  • Setting up food ordering online so that they don’t have to go to the grocery store
  • Checking their mouth and teeth to be sure no problems exist that could be keeping them from eating well

Naturally, all these options should engage your senior. Ask them what they like to eat. Let them pick the foods you buy online. Take the opportunity to guide their choices.

Seniors should have the opportunity to make their own decisions, not just with their day-to-day activities but also what they eat. But, a family caregiver’s influence is strong, so you can guide them to a healthier lifestyle.

Family caregivers can help seniors stay engaged as they age.

Engage in life for a better quality of life!

Happy Older Americans Month!