Articles and Information from GA Foods

Developing an Attitude of Gratitude

Posted by Mary O'Hara on Nov 22, 2016 11:00:00 AM

Gratitude.jpgThanksgiving is the time of year when we express gratitude for all the good things in our lives. But did you know that there is scientific proof that maintaining an attitude of gratitudeall year long can be beneficial to your health?

According to Harvard Medical School, expressing thanks may be one of the simplest ways to feel better. Research conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of University of Miami, revealed some compelling facts about the importance that gratitude plays in determining attitudes.

In the study, one group wrote about things for which they were grateful that occurred during the past week, while the second group listed things that had irritated or displeased them. After ten weeks, the group that listed things they were grateful for felt much more positive and had a better outlook on their lives. They also experienced fewer visits to the doctor than the group who focused on their irritations and negative interactions.

Other studies have looked at how gratitude can improve relationships. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person, but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

Appreciation of Others

We all experience stress in the workplace. Busy case managers and caregivers certainly have their share of work-related stress. People who spend a good amount of time caring for others may often neglect their own well being, and need to learn ways to enhance their sense of self.

Remembering to say “thank you” to others can go a long way in making somebody’s day. In fact, workers who receive appreciation from their managers on a regular basis report that they feel more motivated and positive about their jobs.

Benefits of Gratitude

There are many simple ways to develop a grateful attitude. Below are some scientifically proven benefits of gratitude:

  • Opens the door to more relationships
  • Improves physical health
  • Improves psychological health
  • Enhances empathy and reduces aggression
  • Better sleep
  • Improves self-esteem
  • Increases mental strength

Practice Thankfulness

Just like learning to replace unhealthy food choices with healthier options, we can also develop new habits to adapt our attitudes and cultivate gratitude. Here are some suggestions from Harvard:

Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person's impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person, if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.

Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.

Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you've received each day.

Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.

Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as "peace"), it is also possible to focus on what you're grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.)

Seeking Peace

Feeling grateful even for daily minor annoyances may be another way to deal with stress. For example, instead of being negative about a re-scheduled meeting, think of that extra time as an opportunity to give more thought about the contributions you can make or questions you may have during the meeting.

Small adjustments to one’s attitude can go a long way in seeking peace. According to an article by Anna Hart, “Replacing ‘I’m so stressed about this’ with ‘I’m so excited I get to do this’ has been a game changer for me….I think gratitude is an invaluable practice to any workplace since it also prevents us from taking co-workers for granted or harboring feelings of resentment,” she added.

Here at GA Foods, we are grateful to be of service to others, which is reflected in our core values of Touching Lives, Integrity, Trust, Ownership and Commitment.

As case managers and caregivers, you make many positive contributions everyday in helping others to live better lives and we are grateful for your dedication and commitment!

Happy Thanksgiving from the GA Foods Family!

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Topics: Senior Health, Caregivers, Healthy Meals for Seniors

Confessions from a Caregiver

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Nov 16, 2016 3:13:44 PM


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Pictured is Maureen and her children with her mother, Alice. (And by the way, it was Maureen's 43rd birthday!)

My Back Story

In 1992, we placed my dad in a long-term care facility. He was partially paralyzed from a stroke, and we couldn’t care for him at home. After a year of living apart from my dad, my mother asked to move in with me. Despite living in a senior living community, she was lonely. She was only 71-years old. She had some health issues and limited mobility, but she was completely independent. At the time, my husband and I had a 2-year old daughter and another baby on the way. I had a busy and demanding career. The thought of having another person in our home to help out was very appealing.

Download our free eBook, A Caregiver’s Guide to Taking Care of You

True Confessions

However, over the 18 years that she lived with us, her health steadily declined and she became more dependent. Fortunately, she was never to the point of needing help with activities like bathing or feeding, but we couldn’t leave her alone overnight. She needed us to drive her to doctors’ appointments. (No Uber, yet!) Simple activities like grocery shopping, attending church, or going out to dinner required wrestling her wheelchair into our car. We had to run her errands, like going to the bank or picking up prescriptions. There was constant fear that she would fall and break her hip. And she hated having to rely on us for everything.

Here is my confession – I didn’t make it easy for her. Between juggling my career, my family, and her needs, I was tired and exhausted. I resented her presence. Sometimes, I wanted to be alone with my husband and children for dinner. I wanted to be able to go away for a weekend with my family without having to make arrangements for my mom. I got tired of having to take time off work to take her to the doctor. And she knew how I felt about everything.

My mom never wanted to be a burden. So she asked a neighbor to take her shopping. She asked my kids to run her errands. She asked people from church to take her to the doctor. She visited my sister to give us time alone. And she tried to do anything she could to make life easier for me.

This made me feel guilty because now other people’s lives were being disrupted, not just mine. My neighbors, friends, and family shouldn’t be impacted to make my life easier. I should be able to do this on my own. She took care of me for over 18 years. As her daughter, it was now my responsibility to take care of her. And I could not have been more wrong.

No One is a Caregiver Superhero

My mom passed away five years ago after complications from hip surgery. (Yep, she fell and broke her hip.) I’ve had time to get some perspective, which leads me to my next confession – I’m not a caregiving superhero – actually no one is a caregiving superhero.             

Caregiving is hard. Caregiving comes from a place of love and can be rewarding, but it is hard. It is demanding. It is stressful. As a matter of fact, it is bad for your health. Studies have shown that caregivers are more likely to have a chronic illness than non-caregivers. Caregivers are at greater risk for depression and a decline in quality of life.

Caregivers aren’t limited to those caring for an aging, disabled, or ill family member. A caregiver can be a foster parent or a grandma raising her grandchildren. A caregiver can be a professional like a nurse, case manager, or social worker. A caregiver may provide full- or part-time care. They may live with the care recipient or provide care and support from a distance. The care may range from helping with tasks like shopping and cleaning to providing complex medical care.

The best advice I can give a caregiver is take care of yourself. Taking care of you isn’t selfish. It doesn’t mean you are a failure. It gives you the strength and energy needed as a caregiver. It actually helps you become a better caregiver.

I was fortunate -- I had great support from my sister. But if you or someone you know has caregiver burnout or is ignoring their own needs, download our free eBook, A Caregiver’s Guide to Taking Care of You.

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Topics: Senior Health, Caregivers, Care Managers

Managing Diabetes in Senior Adults

Posted by Jessica Fleigle on Nov 2, 2016 11:06:13 AM

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When caring for seniors with diabetes, it is important to focus on nutrition. A diabetic diet needs to be packed with nutrient-rich foods including vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Having regular meal and snack times is also important in order to manage their blood glucose levels.

Since November is National Diabetes Month, now is the perfect time to discuss a consistent carbohydrate diet. This diet is one of the most effective meal plans for people with diabetes because it helps manage blood glucose levels, while giving seniors flexibility in meal planning. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy for metabolic functions and physical activities. Without them, the body cannot function.

Carbohydrates come in three forms: sugars, complex carbohydrates (starches) and fiber. It is important to understand the different types of carbohydrates in order to manage diabetes through diet. 

Sugars: Sugary carbohydrates are also known as simple or fast-acting carbohydrates. Sugar can be found naturally in fruits and milk, and as added sugar in desserts and refined grains.

Complex Carbohydrates:  Also known as starches, complex carbohydrates include potatoes, beans and whole grain foods such as oats, pastas and breads.

Fiber: Fiber is also a complex carbohydrate. It is found in plant foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. Foods with high fiber content are part of a healthy diet, because they help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

To learn about meal service providers for seniors with diabetes, click here.

What is the necessary carbohydrate intake?

The National Academies' Institute of Medicine recommends that adults should get 45 to 60 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates. This means that 900 to 1,300 calories should encompass carbohydrates for those eating a 2,000 calorie diet. Therefore, it is important to feed the body carbohydrates.

The necessary carbohydrate intake varies from person to person depending on age, weight, blood sugar and activity level. For example, seniors generally need fewer carbohydrates on a daily basis, as they are less active and their bodies metabolize more slowly. However, it is still important for seniors to maintain a consistent intake of carbohydrates in order to sustain their nutrient needs and regulate their blood sugar levels.  

Great ways to ensure seniors with diabetes are getting the correct amount and type of carbohydrates are creating a meal plan or using a food service provider that offers balanced meals. Having a set meal plan or using a food service provider also helps to avoid malnutrition.

What is a consistent carbohydrate diet?

A consistent carbohydrate diet is a meal plan that helps its users keep track of the carbohydrates they consume and stabilize their carbohydrate intake. The ultimate goal is to ensure every meal has the same carbohydrate count. This diet is effective for managing diabetes because it helps control blood sugar levels.

How does a consistent carbohydrate diet work?

When using a consistent carbohydrate meal plan, carbohydrates are counted in portion sizes (15 grams), also known as carb choices. The number of carb choices varies between individuals based on their health status, age or past eating habits. The number of carb choices also varies depending on whether users are eating a meal or a snack. Generally, meals should be between three and four carb choices while snacks should consist of approximately one to two carb choices. However, when caring for seniors with diabetes, individualized carb choice levels for meals and snacks may be necessary. 

How do I educate seniors with diabetes on a consistent carbohydrate diet?

Understanding how many carb choices foods have is the first step to being able to educate seniors on the consistent carbohydrate diet. Foods considered to have one carb choice include a slice of bread, a cup of milk or a small apple. For most manufactured foods, the carb choices are listed under the term "Total Carbohydrate" on the Nutrition Facts label. The “Total Carbohydrate" is listed in grams. Remember, 15 grams equals one carb choice. 

It is also important to read and understand the serving size on the Nutrition Facts label. The “Total Carbohydrate” section of the Nutrition Facts labels is based on one serving size. Therefore, eating three servings is triple the amount of carbohydrates.

Providing seniors with a consistent carbohydrate diet is one of the best ways to manage their diabetes. If seniors do not feel comfortable with preparing their own meals, suggest a food service provider, such as GA Foods, that uses registered dietitians to plan the meals. Having the experts plan and provide the meals takes all the guess work out of the equation.

Download 9 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Home-Delivered Meals Provider

 

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Topics: Senior Health, Diabetes, Healthy Home Delivered Meals, Healthy Meals for Seniors

The Negative Effects of Added Sugar

Posted by Jessica Fleigle on Oct 26, 2016 12:44:53 PM

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There are two different types of sugar – naturally occurring sugar, found in fruits and vegetables, and added sugar, which comes in many forms including granulated sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose and fructose. The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and nine teaspoons for men. However, the average American greatly exceeds this maximum recommendation. Euromonitor, an international research company, revealed that Americans consume 126 grams (31.5 teaspoons) of sugar per day, which equals 101 pounds of granulated sugar annually!

Regularly consuming excessive amounts of added sugar negatively impacts the body’s ability to function properly, leading to poor health. This is especially true for senior citizens who have eaten diets filled with added sugars from a young age. Many seniors experience the negative effects of diets filled with excessive amounts sugar, as they find themselves struggling with diseases including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Due to the fact that many seniors rely on pre-portioned, convenience foods, it is important to research home-delivered meal providers to ensure the meals meet all DRI requirements, including the recommended sugar requirements.  

Click here to learn the impact sugar has on the body.

Effects on the Body

Added sugar has no nutritional value. It offers nothing but high-caloric, empty calories. Every teaspoon (4 grams) of sugar consumed equals 16 calories. Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor in the University of California and a pioneer in decoding sugar metabolism, says that the body can safely metabolize six teaspoons of added sugar per day. However, most Americans are consuming an average of 31.5 teaspoons (126 grams) of sugar per day. Excess sugar turns into body fat, and has been linked to many of the chronic, metabolic diseases people are struggling with. These diseases include, but are not limited to, obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and dementia.

Obesity: The body stores excess sugar as body fat. This leads to weight gain, and can lead to obesity if excess sugar consumption becomes a repeated habit.

Cancer: The body uses glucose, a form of sugar, to generate energy. However, when too much sugar is ingested into the system, it can be dangerous. Cancerous cells feed on the excess sugar, which can cause tumors to grow.

Diabetes: After eating, the body converts food into glucose while the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps glucose to get into the cells of the body where it can be used to make energy. With diabetes, the body may not make enough insulin, use the insulin in the right way, or both, causing blood sugar levels to be too high.

Heart disease: Consuming large amounts of sugar puts added stress on the heart, decreasing the muscle’s function and leading to heart failure and/or heart disease.

Dementia: Excessive sugar consumption also affects the brain. The brain responds to sugar in the same way it responds to other drugs, including cocaine and alcohol. Brain functions such as thinking, memory and learning are closely linked to glucose levels and how efficiently the brain uses this energy source.

Steps to Take to Prevent Excessive Sugar Consumption

It is important to be able to understand the different ways sugar is added into food and beverages. Healthcare providers, Area Agency on Aging (AAA) networks and Case Managers are great resources when looking for home-delivered meals, as their primary goal is to provide nutritious, well-balanced meals to seniors. There are a couple steps to take to ensure regulated, added sugar consumption.

First, look for meal providers that offer low sugar products. For example, GA Foods’ meals are low in sugar, sodium, fat and cholesterol. Partnering with companies that share the same values will make it easier to achieve the end goal, which is providing nutritious, well-balanced meals to seniors.

Second, check the Nutrition Facts label for added sugars. On May 20, 2016, the FDA announced updates to the Nutrition Facts label of packaged foods. One of these updates was listing “added sugars” in grams and as a percent Daily Value. Package updates are not required until 2018; therefore, the added sugar information may not be on all labels. However, companies should be able to provide the breakdown of naturally occurring sugar versus added sugar in their meals if the information is requested.

When it comes to senior nutrition, regulating excess sugar is crucial. Simple ways to guarantee healthier food choices are partnering with home-delivered meal providers who offer meals low in sugar and understanding the Nutrition Facts label.

To learn more about the impact that sugar has on the body, download our fact sheet.

Download Our Sugar Fact Sheet

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Topics: Senior Health, Healthy Meals for Seniors

Age Well by Eating Well

Posted by Jessica Fleigle on Sep 28, 2016 11:00:00 AM

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Proper nutrition is the key to aging well, and it has many health benefits. The vitamins and nutrients in food can help you fight diseases, boost your energy and help you sleep better.

For more tips on energy boosting nutrition click here.

Senior Nutrition

Many senior citizens don’t receive adequately balanced meals, which leads to malnutrition. Malnutrition among seniors is directly correlated to the increasing diagnoses of diseases in the senior population. It is very important to consume the recommended amounts of nutrients every day in order to help your body age well.

Good Nutrition Can Prevent Disease

Consuming natural, minimally-processed foods maximizes the body’s intake of vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are necessary in order for the body to age well and fight against sicknesses and diseases. Multiple health studies have proven that some foods reduce the risk of, and may even prevent, certain chronic conditions. 

We’ve composed a list of the most common diseases among seniors as well as the healthy foods to include in your diet to help prevent them.

  1. 1. Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, is the No. 1 killer of Americans. If you have heart disease, it is recommended to limit the amount of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium you eat each day. A few heart-healthy foods include salmon, nuts, tomatoes and dark chocolate (made up of at least 60 – 70 percent cocoa).
  1. 2. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is often referred to as the silent killer. Over time, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. Foods that are high in potassium can help reduce your risk of hypertension. Some examples are bananas, potatoes and leafy greens such as spinach, collard greens and kale.
  1. 3. Diabetes comes in two forms, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce insulin. With the help of insulin therapy and a healthy diet, type 1 diabetes can be managed. Type 2 diabetes occurs when there is a problem with your body that causes your blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than normal. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with a healthy lifestyle. Diabetic meals should be low in sugar and carbohydrates. Eating cherries, avocados and cinnamon are great because they are linked to reducing blood sugar levels. 

Benefit From a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet consists of a balance between fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, meat and healthy fats. Every meal you eat has the potential to help your body perform successfully. Aside from reducing the risk of diseases, the nutritious meals you eat can also boost your metabolism, improve your mood and help you sleep better at night. Eating an adequate amount of micronutrients including iron, omega-3 fatty acid and folic acid will ensure a positive food-mood relationship.

Make Small Changes

You don’t have to adjust your diet all at once. Start with small changes like switching from a sugary breakfast cereal to a whole grain cereal or oatmeal. Or, snacking on fresh fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods like crackers and chips.

In addition to making small changes, set small, realistic goals to help you acheive your end result. If your end goal is to have as much energy at the end of the day as you do in the morning by three months from now, setting small goals such as getting seven hours of sleep every night, buying more fruits and vegetables when grocery shopping and drinking eight glasses of water daily are great starting points. Achieving these small goals will keep you motivated on your end result, and they'll improve your overall health.

Eating Well on a Budget

Eating healthy doesn't have to be expensive. We’ve created some helpful tips for eating right on a budget. One way to stick to your grocery budget is to create a grocery list. Creating a grocery list ensures you won’t forget any items you need for the week, and it makes you less likely to purchase junk foods, as they are not on the list.

Eating healthy takes some planning. For more information on food swaps you can make to your diet to give you an energy boost, download our energy boosting nutrition tips sheet. 
Download Energy Boosting Nutrition Tips

 

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Topics: Nutrition, Malnutrition in Elderly, Senior Health, Healthy Home Delivered Meals, Nutrition Care, Advice from Dietitians, Affordable, Healthy Foods, Healthy Meals for Seniors

Millennials vs. Seniors: How Sleep Needs Change As We Age

Posted by Lisa Gonzalez on May 25, 2016 11:00:00 AM

Our guest blogger, Lisa Gonzalez, has had years of experience with volunteering in nursing homes and organizing local senior activities. Realizing that this was her passion is what got her involved with ElderCorps.org, a resource geared towards the care and well-being of the aging population.

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Have you noticed that senior citizens tend to sleep less than those below the age of 65? Studies have shown that elderly individuals have more trouble falling asleep and staying asleep than their younger counterparts. While there are numerous causes for these sleep-related issues, it is important that everyone from millennials to seniors get quality rest.

How Sleep Changes Over Time

According to the National Sleep Foundation, humans go from needing up to 17 hours of sleep a day as a newborn to needing a minimum of 7 hours of sleep as a senior citizen. While this 10 hour shift may seem dramatic, it is important to remember that it occurs over an extended time period.

Additionally, once a person reaches his or her young adult years, the amount of sleep needed changes very little, if at all. In other words, once your body is fully developed, you should require a similar amount of sleep for the rest of your life. Though seven to nine hours per night is recommended for adults, there are variations from person to person.

Why Sleep Changes As We Age

Each stage of our lives comes with its own natural sleep needs:

Ages 0-5 Years: During this time, children’s bodies and brains are developing at a rapid pace, thus, requiring 10-17 hours of sleep each night.

Ages 6-17 Years: As children get older, their bodies are preparing them for the transition to adulthood. While they are still developing, the process is not happening as fast as it previously was. As such, they typically only require 8-11 hours of sleep during this time.

Ages 18-64 Years: At this time, our brains and bodies have become fully developed, which means we only require sleep to restore any damage done during our waking hours. During these years, the amount of sleep needed remains relatively constant, at about 7-9 hours per night.

Ages 65+ Years: During this time, seniors still require a similar amount of sleep as their younger counterparts (7-8 hours per night). Unfortunately, many seniors find it increasingly difficult to sleep after age 65.

Development throughout life, amongst other factors, dictates how much sleep we require. Once we hit age 65, however, many natural changes occur that can disrupt our sleeping patterns. These can include:

Changes in Melatonin Levels: Some doctors suggest that elderly individuals produce less of the hormone Melatonin, which is partially responsible for sleep.

Changes in Circadian Rhythm: Our Circadian Rhythm is our own personal internal clock that tells our bodies how to function properly throughout the day. Some doctors believe that this rhythm becomes increasingly off balance as we age.

Development of Insomnia: Sleep disorders, mental health issues (such as depression), physical ailments, and sometimes even surroundings can all lead to insomnia or sleeplessness and affect senior health. As we age, we are more prone to health-related issues, making it more difficult to sleep. Other factors that may contribute to sleeplessness in senior citizens include:

  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of social interaction
  • Lack of proper nutrition
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom
  • Concerns or anxiety about aging
  • Physical pain
  • Certain medications
  • Insufficient nighttime routine

Sufficient sleep is crucial for everyone, regardless of age, as it factors into many parts of our lives. However, as the elderly community is already at higher risk of medical and mental health issues, it is important that they are not exacerbated by improper sleep.

New Dietary Guidelines for 2015-2020

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Topics: Senior Health

In Celebration of Older Americans Month

Posted by Ritch Brandon on May 4, 2016 11:00:00 AM

President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation on April 18, 1963 designating the month of May as Senior Citizens Month, later to become known as Older Americans Month.

May's designation as Older American's Month has created a time for us all to pause and acknowledge the contributions of our most experienced citizens, particularly those who served and defended our country.  We at GA Foods have proudly served older Americans through Meals on Wheels programs since 1973.  And for over 15 years, the SunMeadow® brand has become a mainstay in the knapsacks and cargo pant pockets of U.S. troops on the move.  We are proud to take this time to pause and reflect on the accomplishments and contributions of those we serve.

President John F. KennedyThe average age of the seniors we serve is 78 years old.  Someone that is 78 was born in 1937 or 1938.  At that time, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the 32nd President of the United States, the Hindenburg crashed in New Jersey, and the Golden Gate Bridge opened in San Francisco.  Since then, our "average" senior has lived through the Attack on Pearl Harbor, WWII, the Korean War, the ratification of six amendments to the United States Constitution, the discovery of DNA, Brown vs. Board of Education, the development of the polio vaccine, the Vietnam War, the signing of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960 and 1964, the Cuban Missle Crisis, the assassinations of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Apollo 11's landing on the Moon, Watergate, Roe vs. Wade,  and eight different government administrations...and that was just in the first half of their lives so far!

The knowledge and wisdom that an entire generation has accumulated through those events is a national treasure.  For all of you who have "well experienced" adults in your lives, be it your parents, grandparents, other family or friends, we urge you to take the time in May to reach out and visit with this special person.  Listen to their stories.  Receive their wisdom and perspective on life.  Be there to lend support...even for "simple things" that are no longer quite so simple for them.

While GA Foods provides home delivered meals to older adults year-round, we will use May to focus on how older adults in our community are leading and inspiring others, how we can support and learn from them, and how we might follow their examples to blaze trails in our own lives.  We wish all "older Americans" great health and happiness!  

Wellness Resources for Olders Adults

Brain Health
Source: Administration for Community Living

Falls Prevention
Source: National Council on Aging

Go4Life Exercise & Physical Activity Campaign
Source: National Institute on Aging

Healthy Eating As We Age
Source: USDA

Long-term Care Planning
Source: Department of Health and Human Services

Older Adults and Oral Health
Source: National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

Sleep and Aging
Source: National Institutes of Health

Discover OAM: Visit http://acl.gov/olderamericansmonth

Contact your Area Agency on Aging:
Visit http://www.eldercare.gov/ or call 1-800- 677-1116

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Topics: Senior Health, Caregivers

The Causes of Malnutrition in Older Adults

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Apr 27, 2016 11:00:00 AM

While we often hear about children in our society not having access to a proper diet and measures being taken to try to improve their condition, we do not hear as much about the issues facing our older adult population. The fact is, as many as 50-percent of seniors are at risk for shortcomings in their daily food nutrient requirements. Evidence-based research has produced some startling facts that build a case for working to overcome malnutrition in seniors.

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The Staggering Costs of Undernourished Older Adults

You are likely aware that malnutrition in seniors will impact their health and well-being, however, it may surprise you to learn that in the United States alone, over 50 billion dollars is attributed to the cost of disease-associated undernourishment in the aging population annually. While chronic health conditions can cause a nutrient deficiency, malnutrition also leads to more health complications, falls and hospital admissions in older adults. It is a dangerous cycle that must be stopped. Some more statistics that may astonish you include:

  • One of every two seniors are at risk of malnutrition
  • A 300-percent increase in healthcare costs is linked to undernourishment in older adults
  • Up to 60-percent of seniors hospitalized suffer from the result of malnutrition 
  • Malnutrition can increase a hospital stay for a senior by as many as four to six days

Considering the relatively low cost of ensuring adequate nourishment, it is vital that we do what we can to prevent malnutrition in seniors.

Adequate Income not the Only Way to Defeat Malnutrition in Seniors

Malnutrition in seniors is not relegated only to those with low incomes. There are several underlying causes of undernourishment in the aging population.  Most can be categorized as physiological, sociological, psychological or pathological.

Physiological Causes

During the aging process, many changes occur in the body that contribute to decreased appetite and a lack of interest in food:

  • A decrease in both the senses of taste and smell lower the desire for meals
  • Diminishes in taste and smell may lead to increased salt and sugar intake and lower the desire for adequate variety of food choices
  • Slower gastric function and decreased acid production delays emptying the system
  • Lean body mass decreases, further slowing metabolism and hunger 

While these changes are a natural progression, being aware of them and watching for signs is critical in preventing malnutrition in seniors.

Sociological Causes

Aging is difficult for many to accept and can have a serious effect on the sociological factors involved in seniors' eating habits:

  • A reduced ability to shop for and prepare food
  • Fixed income and socioeconomic status may affect food choices
  • Impairment of life skills and activities
  • Being alone at mealtimes

Outwardly you may not realize these are all factors in undernourishment, but in this class there are attainable solutions.

Psychological Causes

Concerns in this category run deeper than the social aspect of decreased appetite and should be addressed with a medical professional as soon as they are suspected:

  • Depression and a general attitude that life is meaningless
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Grief over the loss of a spouse or friends
  • Life events that are emotionally stressful

Armed with understanding, combating undernourishment in seniors due to psychological concerns can be improved quickly through emotional support and proper medical attention.

Pathological Causes

The final category of causes is another that requires medical intervention and if symptoms are observed, should be addressed as early as possible:

  • Problems with the teeth and jaws
  • Alcoholism
  • Difficulty with swallowing
  • Underlying disease such as cancer, diabetes and thyroid issues
  • Dementia 
  • Medications that interfere with digestion or hunger

Again, these are all causes that should be addressed by a medical professional as early as possible to mitigate the effects of malnutrition in seniors. 

How We can Overcome Malnutrition in Seniors

While we we may not be able to eradicate undernourishment in all seniors, armed with this information, you can be sure your loved ones or older adults in your care are not at risk for malnutrition. Some tips include:

  • Regular nutritional assessments and follow-up on any prescribed treatments
  • Spend time together, particularly at mealtimes whenever possible
  • Consider a prepared meal service to combat apathy or poor food choices
  • Try to help your senior loved-one stay as active as possible, both socially and physically

One senior at a time, we can all help prevent malnutrition in our older adult population by focusing on those under our care and understanding the underlying causes. 

The more a senior has access to healthy foods and all of life’s necessities, the easier it will be to age-at-home. For more information on choosing a home-delivered meals provider, download our free ebook:

Download 9 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Home-Delivered Meals Provider

 

 

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Topics: Malnutrition in Elderly, Home Delivered Meals, Senior Health, Nutrition Care

Does Food Security Impact Hospital Readmissions?

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Apr 20, 2016 9:59:59 AM

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Food Security (or Insecurity) Defined!

Food security, or insecurity, is a social, cultural or economic status, whereas hunger is a physiological condition – the physical pain and discomfort someone experiences. Hunger doesn’t describe the scope of food security, or insecurity, which is when people do not have access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed a validated survey with 18 questions to determine a person’s level of food security. Based on the answers to these questions, the USDA defines the levels of food security as:

  • High food security: answers “no” to all 18 questions.
  • Marginal food security: answers “yes” to one or two questions.
  • Low food security: answers “yes” to three or more questions.
  • Very low food security: answers “yes” to five or more questions in homes without children or “yes” to eight or more questions in households with children.

Food Security Among the Elderly

In the US, 48.1 million people live in households with low or very low food security. Of those people, 20% or 9.6 million are seniors. Seniors with low food security tend to have medical and mobility challenges. Per AARP, those at the greatest risk for low food security are the poor, minorities, the unemployed, the disabled, and those living in the South.

Older adults above the poverty level may also be at risk for low food security, particularly if they are unable to shop for and prepare foods.

Consequences of Low Food Security

Low food security is a strong predictor of health problems like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and pulmonary disease. Adding to the problem, these chronic conditions increase the medical expenses of those with low food security, often forcing them to choose between paying for medical care and buying food. In turn, the chronic conditions increase healthcare expenditures paid by health plans, Medicare and/or Medicaid.

A recent study looked at the impact that low food security has on high rates of hospital readmissions. They interviewed 40 adults with three or more hospitalizations within a 12-month period. Here are their findings:

  • 30% were low or very low food secure
  • 25% were marginally food secure
  • 75% were unable to shop for food on their own
  • 58% were unable to prepare their own food 

The researchers recommend interventions that educate and connect patients with unmet food needs to community resources after discharge. 

hospitalization_LR.pngTransition Care Planning

Healthcare professionals need to evaluate a patient’s food security level as part of the transitional care plan upon discharge from the hospital. Most transition care models don’t incorporate nutrition care, including screening for unmet food needs, after discharge. A guide from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, recommends addressing food security as a strategy to avoid readmissions for diverse populations. After a hospitalization, patients generally have decreased energy, pain, weakness, and a poor appetite, putting those with low food security at an even greater risk for malnutrition, and associated poor outcomes.

Connecting low food secure patients with resources such as home-delivered meals (HDM), decreases their need for shopping and cooking after a hospitalization. HDMs provide a regular source of nutritious food for those that need it for their recovery, reducing medical costs and the risk of a hospital readmission.

 

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Topics: Malnutrition in Elderly, Senior Health, Healthcare Cost Reduction, Food Insecurity, Medicare, Food Security, Malnutrition, Medicaid

Home-Delivered Meals for Seniors: Why Use Frozen?

Posted by Frank Curto, PhD and Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Apr 6, 2016 11:00:00 AM

TV-Dinners.gifMany senior nutrition programs are moving away from the traditional model of delivering hot meals daily to
delivering frozen meals weekly. If the idea of frozen meals conjurs up images of TV dinners from the 1960's, we are talking about something entirely different. Today's meals meet strict nutritional guidelines and are actually targeted for older adults. Here are the facts:

1.  Frozen food has the same, if not better, nutritional value as fresh foods. 

Frozen produce is not harvested until fully ripened. Fresh produce is harvested before reaching peak ripeness, so it can ripen during transportation and storage. This means nutrients do not develop to full potential.  However, frozen produce is allowed to ripen before being picked. The mature fruits and vegetables contain high levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Frozen foods are flash-frozen immediately after being harvested. This process assures there is minimal nutrient loss when processing the foods. Hot and chilled meals are subjected to light and heat during transportation and storage, causing further nutrient loss. Frozen meals can be transported and stored without compromising nutrient content.

2.  Maintaining the cold chain with frozen home-delivered meals is the most reliable method of assuring food safety.

Although there are multiple causes of foodborne illness, improper temperature control is a common failure point in many segments of the food service production and distribution chain. The “cold chain” process has emerged as the most reliable method of assuring food safety. With this method, food is maintained at temperatures that prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and pathogens that are responsible for the majority of foodborne-related illnesses.  Maintaining the cold chain process from the time of production until consumed is the best way to protect seniors from foodborne illness. For more information on foodborne-illnesses in seniors, click here.

Using frozen meals also allows delivery routes, particularly in rural areas, to be extended without compromising food safety. Hot meals have a much shorter delivery window. Drivers have to ensure meals are not exposed to improper temperatures and allowed to spend time outside of the food safety "danger zone." 

3.  Food quality is more appealing with frozen home-delivered meals.

Food held at hot temperatures also keeps bacteria from growing. However, hot food begins to deteriorate over time, affecting appearance, aroma, flavor, and texture. Food becomes mushy, overcooked, discolored, bitter, and dried out. Also, nutrient loss is greater with hot meals. Frozen meals are flash-frozen immediately after being cooked, locking in their great quality, taste, and nutrition. Freezing also allows seasonal foods to be available year round.

4.  Frozen home-delivered meals offer more flexibility and autonomy for the seniors. 

Home_Delivered_Meals_LR.pngFrozen meals are delivered to the homes 2 to 4 times per month, freeing up the senior's schedule. This allows them to select the meal they want to eat - when they want to eat it. Daily, hot home-delivered meals require the senior to be home every day at a specific time. There is no flexibility for scheduling doctor and therapy appointments. These meals are also selected for the senior, taking away their autonomy.  

Weekly deliveries of frozen meals allow nutrition programs to better utilize their resources and serve more seniors. In place of daily meal deliveries, many programs have their volunteers make social visits or phone calls to their recipients. This makes the seniors and their families feel more secure, knowing someone is regularly checking on them. 

If you'd like more information on selecting a home-delivered meal provider, click here.


Download 9 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Home-Delivered Meals Provider

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Topics: Fresh vs. Frozen Home Delivered Meals, Nutrition, Home Delivered Meals, Senior Health

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