Family Caregivers Feel the Heat: Home Cooking for Seniors a Source of Stress for Caregivers of Older Adults

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Adult daughters - who typically serve as home cooks for seniors - are feeling the heat in the kitchen, according to a recent study of family caregivers. That's why Home Instead Senior Care has partnered with national nutrition experts from the University of Maryland and Duke University Medical Center to promote healthy, stress-free grocery shopping and provide meal preparation tips and recipes for family caregivers.

ask, 'Is there anything I can do to help you?' Listen to seniors' concerns. Maybe you want to go with them to shop.

Adult daughters - who typically serve as home cooks for seniors - are feeling the heat in the kitchen, according to a recent study of family caregivers. The stress is especially high for adult children who are caring and cooking for someone with several nutritional risk factors.

Research conducted for the caregiving company Home Instead Senior Care revealed that caring for an older person who has three or more nutritional risk factors is tied to increased stress levels. Of the caregivers who rated their lives as extremely stressful, 67 percent were caring for loved ones with three or more nutritional risk factors, compared with 33 percent of caregivers whose seniors had fewer than three nutritional risk factors(1).

Adult children caring for an older adult (with an average age of 81) reported the top three nutritional risks as:
1. Three or more prescribed or over-the-counter drugs per day.
2. An illness or condition that made the senior change his or her diet.
3. Having lost or gained more than 10 pounds in the past six months without trying(2).

That's why Home Instead Senior Care has partnered with national nutrition experts from the University of Maryland and Duke University Medical Center to promote healthy, stress-free grocery shopping and meal preparation tips and recipes for seniors.

Senior care expert and Home Instead Senior Care CEO Paul Hogan said that risks associated with conditions such as medication use and illness can negatively impact seniors' health and independence as they age. "Good nutrition is, in fact, the first line of defense in helping to keep seniors healthy and independent," said Hogan.

According to research, family caregivers are taking an active role in the lives of these seniors who need help shopping and preparing meals for their older loved ones, which could be contributing to that stress, Hogan said. In the Home Instead Senior Care survey, 83 percent of family caregivers help with groceries or other errands; 65 percent assist with meal preparation(3).

Experts advise stressed-out family caregivers to get organized by creating a shopping list so their seniors regularly have healthy ingredients (see the Senior Shopping List), collect interesting recipes, and ensure their senior has the companionship they need to shop for groceries and make mealtimes enjoyable.

"Buy fresh ingredients and prepare meals with older adults, enticing them with what they like to eat. Bring in new recipes and ingredients; we all get in a rut," said Dr. Nadine Sahyoun, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Maryland, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Elisabetta Politi, nutrition director of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center at the Duke University Medical Center added that there's no need for family caregivers to act as the food police. Instead, "ask, 'Is there anything I can do to help you?' Listen to seniors' concerns. Maybe you want to go with them to shop."

Hogan added that companionship is one ingredient that family caregivers don't want to leave out of a senior's meal plan. Companionship is vital to making mealtime more engaging for an older adult as well as in alleviating the strain on family caregivers. "So many seniors are alone or lonely. If you can't be there to shop for groceries or eat with loved ones, consider a congregate meal site - such as a senior center - a meal delivery program or a paid companion to help encourage older adults to develop the kind of nutritional habits that will keep them healthy and give you peace of mind."

A Cooking Under Pressure handbook is available free through your local Home Instead Senior Care office. The Foods for Seniors Web site provides additional information, research, and resources.

Sources:
1,2,3. The Boomer Project completed online interviews with 1,279 U.S. adult caregivers, ages 35 to 62, with a parent, stepparent, or older relative for whom they or someone in their household provides care. Questions regarding nutritional risk factors and stress adapted from Abbott Laboratories' "Determine Your Nutritional Health" checklist and used with the permission of Abbott Laboratories, copyright 2008.

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Dan Wieberg
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