Help Aging Parents–Who Don’t Eat Properly: A Centenarian’s Advice

Thanksgiving Leftovers Go Home

Thanksgiving Leftovers Go Home


With Thanksgiving/Chanukah just a over a week away, I’m thinking about our dinner, older family members, their eating habits, and what special contributions I can make.

At age 97 and 98 Sr. Advisor, R, previously shared thoughts and advice on my posts about nutritious food older people like, can prepare easily and quickly, and where and how she buys it. (Links below)

Now–at age 100–she shares her philosophy as it relates to life and food, and reiterates the quick, easy, no-mess, healthy food preparation that has helped her age well.

“I always say ‘Take Care of Yourself or You Can’t Take Care of Anything Else.’”  Inference: (…and you’ll end up needing to have someone take care of you). To this end, what you eat is clearly important.

1. SOUP–Most, if not all, older people love soup. It’s comfort food that is usually very nourishing. Dad also loved soup in his later years. R still goes to the grocery store with neighboring women–a Gen x (to Trader Joe’s) one day;–a Boomer (to Safeway) the other day. She always has soup on hand. Why? “It’s delicious, it’s nutritious, and it’s easy preparation and clean-up.” Items: Trader Joe’s soup w/ vegetables, and chicken, vegetables et al.

2. FROZEN DINNERS–nutritious, anchor a meal, easy preparation. Frozen food isn’t new to R, who was widowed at 51. Dinners alone–for one–propelled her to check out the frozen food main course offerings years ago. After some trial and error, she selected 2 brands based on taste and nutrition (she reads ingredients). Although a very good cook in her younger years (I hear), preparing dinner for one lacked appeal. Remaining independent had utmost appeal however. In R’s mind it included eating healthy (before that was popular). At age 100 she feels secure with a week’s supply of frozen dinners in her small freezer. (She doesn’t drive of course).

3. FRESH VEGETABLES/FRUITS–knowing their importance. Bananas, orange juice and Trader Joe’s “Healthy 8 Chopped Veggie Mix” are mainstays. As stated in a previous post, she puts a salad-size portion in a plastic take-out box, adds salad dressing, secures the lid, shakes, and has a salad ready without messing up an extra dish. The veggies can also be steamed for cooked vegetables (but then an extra pot must be used).

4. TREATS–who does’t enjoy them and need them. They add fun to eating! For R, at home, they could be a cookie or two, a piece of candy, a dish of ice cream, or a frozen dessert. She believes in moderation, and buys low-fat if available. Neither cholesterol nor sugar has ever been a problem; but she’s cautious none-the-less. The day we had lunch together she ordered a completely different treat: a main course–fish and chips, salted and fried of course. This elicited the “I don’t abuse myself” quote (meaning in this instance, eating recklessly), first mentioned in an earlier post. She reiterates that she eats “simply” at home, but treats herself when she’s out…and she discusses “salt.”

5. SALT– Using common sense. R has been careful about salt intake for decades–long before it was popular. In her 50′s she realized her ankles were swelling and she decided to cut down on the salt which, it turns out, eliminated the swelling. “No doctor ever told me to cut down,” she says, ”it was just common sense….”

The dinner we prepare next week certainly belongs in the “treat” category. Do we all send leftovers (if we have them) home with our guests from this dinner when we host it? Leftovers are no doubt extra special for aging parents who don’t prepare big meals and those living alone.

This year I’m going to remember something else: put unused vegetables (eg. celery not used for stuffing, extra lettuce from salad making, and parsley–which R. loves–) in zip-lock bags, along with any other unused extras that she wouldn’t buy for herself. And–oh, yes! Add some of the centerpiece flowers, fruits, or vegetables. One more thoughtful way we can help parents age well.

What Food Should A 97-year-old Eat Breakfast and Dinner Ideas
What a 97-year-old woman cooks for herself And how she grocery shops
Aging Parents: Eating Healthy. Can We–Do We–Help? Quick, Easy, No-Mess Meal preparation, Dessert ideas

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some free and some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

A Nontraditional Thanksgiving Day for Aging Parents This Year?



Menurkey menorah

The last time the first day of Chanukah and Thanksgiving shared the same date was in 1888. Since it won’t happen again for over 75,000 years–give or take a few thousand years (depending on which math genius does the figuring), this is the only year in our lifetime that these holidays overlap for Jewish families. Creative ideas for food and some fashion are already out there. Yet there’s another overlap–

Have any of us missed the ads (or other media discussions) of the “12 top retailers” who will be open for business on Thanksgiving? Some Thursday night; some all day.

Getting a head start on the shortened holiday selling season (when most retailers make most money) may need to be a priority. The economy isn’t great, as we know. Likewise breaking with tradition isn’t great for old/older people when connections at this time are important and eagerly anticipated.

Businesses need to pay their rent/overhead and their workers. Workers may want to take on extra work at this time of year to earn additional money. People want to take advantage of brick and mortar stores’ early sales, to help stay within their budget.  (Who doesn’t like a bargain?) Probably everyone understands the reasons for retail stores deciding to remain open this Thanksgiving –even if they don’t like it.

Older people find change more difficult than those younger. A traditional Thanksgiving is a fond, warm memory for most of us. Can we adapt our Thanksgiving celebration to what looks like a new reality in retailing?

I can only speak for our rather small group–age range 18 months-100 years-old. We are sticking with tradition. We’ll have our traditional Thanksgiving meal as always. Same time; same place. While younger family members may wish to make purchases and take advantage of the sales that day, they can do it–before or after our late-afternoon meal–at brick and mortar stores or online.

Yet “after,” from our experience, is usually a special time to sit around and talk, a time when elders enjoy reminiscing. A time when elders can share and we can learn. A time of togetherness and connections with others–the latter an important factor in helping parents age well.

And so, in spite of religions and the attraction of great bargains, I will make the Thanksgiving meal for family and friends–staying with the traditional once again–for probably the 40th time. What about you?

Related:   feast-article-1.1471942  Food   The turkey menorah  (menurkey menorah) pictured above –video        

Note: “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected others–to help parents age well.


Aging Parents: Mother’s Day 2013-Gift Ideas–thoughtful/delicious/exciting/pampering/practical

“I don’t want anything that takes up space or I have to dust.
I just want my children to be together and get along.”
74-year-old grandmother

Each year I ask aging mothers what they’d like for Mother’s Day. The above quote sounds unappreciative or perhaps an attempt at humor. I probed a bit. This grandmother means exactly what she said and elaborated. Saying she has everything she needs, she emphasizes she’s trying to get rid of–not acquire–stuff.

(5/2015–Update: Full Disclosure. This grandmother now, selectively, uses her iPad, but still handwrites all personal correspondence. Stationery is an always-welcome gift for her.)

To make the point: her adult children gave her an iPad at Christmas (she doesn’t like using computers, hers was 20-years-old). She knows her new email address is 2 words (her children signed her up); has no idea the word order nor whether they’re case- sensitive. What she wants most: having her children get along and time when the whole family (she’s widowed) can be together.  Hmmmm… do we remember to give Moms what they want and avoid imposing “hidden agenda” (something we want for them for a reason) gifts?

10 Mother’s Day Gifts–that don’t last forever: 
thoughtful/delicious/exciting/pampering, indulgent,/practical~
The presentation makes them even more special 

pretty boxes1.  A pretty box* (a Valentine’s suggestion this year), with card saying something like: “I’ve put loads of love in this box. When you need a little, just open.”  Possibly include a picture of yourself/ family/grandchildren/ pet/hearts/candies–you get the idea–in the box.

2.  Beautifully decorated little cupcakes from the bakery (or DIY). Sr. Advisor R loves the looks and the taste–just the right size for an older woman, she says.

3.  Selection of special teas or coffees

4.  Beautifully decorated box of favorite candy or R’s favorite candy (which is hand-picked by us) or Harbor Sweets‘ Sweet Sloops.

4.  LaDuree or other macaroons–eye-appealing, delicious, indulgent, extravagant

5.  Lottery tickets are exciting for some. Who doesn’t like to win! Gift them in decorative box or bag .

6.  Lotions/oils could be called pampering, depending on the cost. As body chemistry changes with age, they are a necessity. Older women’s skin is at risk for dryness, accentuated wrinkles etc. Moisturizing products to the rescue.

7.  Perfume is not in style in some places. However, the 74-year-old grandmother has a favorite perfume. It’s one gift she loves, she says–and can use it up. Check out Mom’s favorite perfume? It’s usually nicely packaged.

8.  Appointments at the hairdressers–or at beauty colleges (less expensive), leave women looking better and no doubt feeling better when they look in the mirror. Messy hair spoils appearance–no news there! Make arrangements, make a gift card. This gift  can lift an old mother’s (or younger one’s) spirits and get couch potatoes out of the house.

9.  Pedicures are a necessity when people are either no longer able to reach–or clearly see–their toe nails. Older women’s toes aren’t often visible to us (they don’t wear flip-flops). Have you checked your mother’s? Old nails can get thick, hard to cut and ugly. It’s recommended–especially for diabetics–that pedicures become routine around age 65.  What could seem like an indulgence for younger people, becomes a necessity at a certain age.

10. Movie script and restaurants’ gift certificates get Mom out of the house with a friend for entertainment or a meal. Moms say a break from cooking is a gift.

Most older people want to simplify and declutter; not add stuff. The above gifts get used up and can help mothers age happy and well. And doesn’t pretty packaging make them look special. *These boxes were $1.00 at–I think–Dollar Tree stores this week.

Pretty Packaging

Note: “Newsworthy” (top right). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some fun stuff
–to help parents age well.

Related: Click “Great Gifts” tab under header at top.

Aging Parents: Energize and Lift Older Peoples’ Spirits With Gifts Appealing to the 5 Senses….continued

Taste, Smell, Touch, Vision and Hearing

 Gifts that make use of the 5 senses–our basic way of perceiving and interacting with our environment–are no doubt welcome. Especially for older people who live in assisted living, rehab, other facilities, these kinds of gifts may help combat the dreary, shorter days of autumn that will soon be upon us. Note: summary gift list is at end.

Older woman buying something tasty

Older woman buying something tasty

We’ve discussed taste. Most older people like edible gifts. They don’t take up much space and are soon gone. And sometimes the most sinful food is the most coveted, isn’t it? But of course dietary considerations should be taken into account–possible exception: when the doctor says it doesn’t make any difference any more.

I remember Mother telling me her best friend didn’t have much sense of smell and thus, couldn’t really taste food. Is that true? What I do know is that Mother enjoyed food and had a keen sense of smell.

Gifts appealing to older people’s sense of smell. Why the Mentholatum?

The result for me–and for her: I often bought gifts that had lovely fragrances. Mother used a bath powder called “Tabu.” After she died, the person who had cleaned for her told me that–since Mother’s death– every time she came to the house she went into Mother’s bathroom, opened that box of powder to sniff it because it reminded her of my mom…and she asked if I’d mind if she had it. (It’s now hers.) Fragrances, of course, are not gender specific. Men use after-shave and cologne, while colognes, perfume, and a wide array of lotions appeal to women. And don’t most fragrances come from the smells of nature–flowers, earth, wood…..?

On the other hand, some people have a very sensitive sense of smell and need to block out offensive odors. A dab of Mentolatum, just outside the nostril, is a quick fix for the short run–assuming there’s no health reason that prohibits Mentholatum for an aging parent.

The sense of touch–to pet a pet

Then there’s the sense of touch. We know how wonderful it is to be
held by someone dear to us (remember older people are probably not lovingly touched–hugged–as often as younger people). Isn’t is pleasurable to feel the soft skin of a baby, a well-worn piece of wood, cashmere? Perhaps it’s another reason people love their pets–the way they snuggle up, give a little lick, the softness of some breeds’ coats.

Sneaking a pet into an aging parents’ room is definitely not my suggestion. Yet I know in the rehab center where Sr. Advisor R was recovering from her broken hip (femur), an elderly man and his dog came several days a week to visit patients. I also know a very dear, older friend dying of cancer was allowed to have her granddaughter and granddaughter’s dog visit the care center. The granddaughter was a doctor, the dog had taken whatever courses a dog needs to pass to enter health facilities (I’m not certain whether or not it was a therapy dog), and the granddaughter made the rounds of patients who appreciated pets after visiting with her grandmother. That was an energizer and did lift spirits.

Since this is getting long, I’ll conclude with vision and hearing in the next post. To be explicit about gifts:
1. TASTE: Enticing food, favorite food
2. SMELL: Gifts with fragrances the older person likes; small wooden (cedar?) boxes; flowers with fragrance; Mentholatum as a defense if needed–or scented oil?
3.  TOUCH: Gifts that are pleasurable to touch: bring the baby, a very soft, light blanket, a smooth wooden box or something made to feel like worn wood; give hugs, hold hands, try to involve a pet.

Note: “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Link to timely information and research from top universities about cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s–plus some fun stuff to help parents age well.


Autumn Ideas to Energize Aging Parents– A Focus on the 5 Senses:Taste

How often do we indulge ourselves with something that appeals to our taste buds when we’re feeling down? It brings a temporary lift and energizes us, doesn’t it?

Tasty food seems to temper the unpleasant and boost our energy. For example, I always tried to have coffee, tea and really good goodies available when I ran parent groups for parents of high school students who had problems. Members seemed to come together more eagerly–and never miss a meeting–to address serious problems. After a few meetings, parents volunteered to bring the goodies. Is it a stretch to say they sweetened the atmosphere to deal with difficult issues?

Can satisfying the sense of taste, by providing aging parents’ favorite foods, help lift parents out of the autumn doldrums ?
–it certainly can’t hurt.

While we concentrate on living-alone older parents and friends who don’t like autumn/fall and the months that follow, I’m guessing that older parents who still have their spouse, tolerate autumn doldrums better than those living alone.  Of course the goal is the same for all: lift spirits and energize by pleasing the senses–in this case, taste.

Assisted Living and Rehab Facilities

I know of no-one in assisted living or in a rehab facility who loves the food, although I believe it’s nutritious and well-balanced. So bringing in favorite food(s) should provide a “lift.”

Had Dad ever been in assisted living, I would have taken him (weekly) a corned beef sandwich on rye on one occasion and New England clam chowder on another, and I would have asked him for additional requests. I probably would have asked a family member to coordinate with me and bring another kind of soup–or even stew– on a different day. The latter microwave easily and can last for several meals.  OK…’nuff said.

When a parent lives alone being aware of nutrition and healthy diet may help dictate the selection of favorite foods. As noted elsewhere, Mother sipped water; didn’t drink enough–so I bought flavored water, which she really liked. It was easy to leave her with a dozen bottles of her favorite flavors.

She also loved sweets, but diabetes was an issue, so I carefully selected as many flavors of no-sugar ice cream as I could find and she chose her favorites which I kept replenished  for her. I never blended slurpees for her, but probably should have. She loved and could eat fruit and–from what I can tell–stevia is an OK sweetener to add to the blend.

We know our parents favorite foods. If we’re creative we can provide them in different ways.  For example, a friend, whose wife is very ill, apprised her favorite restaurant of the situation, and–on occasion–brought “carry-out” of her favorite main course (even though the restaurant doesn’t have “carry out”). Why? Is it because people in the food business realize how much something that tastes good can energize and raises spirits?

Whether it’s apple cider, flavored water, slurpees, soup, stew, sweets or a prepared meal, bringing aging parents an edible favorite should provide a “lift”–pleasing one of the senses: taste. Certainly worth a try when the days become shorter and darker.

–Until Saturday with ideas for the remaining 4 senses……

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: The Practical, Important Foundations for Aging Well Function 4 –pictures added

4 Fundamentals–Fundamental #4
Nutrition and Hydration

Food and water are essential. We know that. We covered diet choices in previous posts, listing 98-year-old Sr. Advisor R’s favorite foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We also followed R’s shopping trip to Trader Joe’s for some of her favorite foods.

#4a.  Food  If you haven’t already viewed this post, click for sensible, tasty food ideas and shopping strategies that, no doubt, have contributed to keeping R healthy during her older years.

R worked out some dietary changes for herself, without a doctor telling her she needed to adjust her diet. For example, she watches salt intake–buying low-sodium products when available as explained in the aforementioned posts. She realized that while her taste-buds enjoyed rich food, it wasn’t agreeing with her 80-something-year-old body chemistry; so she eliminated rich foods from her daily diet.

She also decided to buy “low fat” products when they were an option and tasted decent. This isn’t to say R never enjoys treats like candy, dessert, or quiche; rather she rations rich foods, never overdoing because, she says, “it’s not worth paying the price. Why make yourself sick? It’s hard enough to be old.”

Bodies age. Metabolism and who-knows-what-else changes. Recognizing what doesn’t’ agree with us, probably checking with our doctor to rule out a more major problem, then making changes is no doubt proactive and preventative.

#4b. Hydration  On the other hand, we may not realize we aren’t drinking enough. Inadequate hydration causes problems. Most studies have found that older people don’t experience thirst like younger people do. When I mentioned this to R, she acknowledged she didn’t often feel thirsty, but didn’t know it was age-related. She added that her systems function better when she drinks more water. We talked about how much water older people should drink.  Click Mayo Clinic’s link,, for hydration information.

Mother experienced a consequence of not drinking enough water. She was in the hospital. In her late 80’s she took a bad fall in a darkened movie theater. It did a lot of damage, but she could eat and take medications by mouth. Not drinking enough water when taking pills, however, caused them to lodge somewhere in Mother’s throat. I learned this a day later, after significant throat irritation was traced to the partially dissolved pills. Pills need ample water to dissolve and do their job. Wish I’d known about this NIH link: before the unpleasant incident.

After that, Mother was mindful about drinking enough. She didn’t like water much, so I bought flavored water. We lined up the bottles to be consumed each day and adjusted for juice and soup. Result: Mother felt a sense of achievement upon finishing the last bottle each day–and no more hydration problems. Setting goals and accomplishing them–always a plus!

Good vision, good hearing, good food, plenty of fluids, and keeping the body moving provide a strong foundation for aging well. And the more we know–and aging parents know–about supporting these important functions, the better the chances of helping parents age well.
*                                 *                                  *

Seems like I’ve always heard about this simple way to test whether we’re drinking enough liquids–but I only read it this once in a naturopathic doctor’s work: The skin on the back of the hand–if gently pinched (remember old people bruise easily)–should go quickly back into position when the body has sufficient hydration. Returning slowly into position is an indication of insufficient hydration.

For additional hydration information:

Yes, I know this isn’t Tuesday or Saturday, but my wireless access is “ify” while I’m cleaning our sold/soon-to-close-home, which no longer has internet access….and my iPhone just can’t do it! Anyway, don’t they say flexibility is a good thing?

Aging Parents–Eating Healthy: How/What 98-year-old R Prepares for Meals

“I don’t cook anymore. I’m not interested”

I like to think aging parents who are relatively healthy, live fairly independently and have decent mental ability can make good decisions about eating healthy. But then don’t we know people our own age who ignore healthy eating? Is it part of human nature to indulge or, on the other hand, to simply forget the importance of eating regular, nutritious meals? Do older people think supplementing with Sustacal or Ensure qualifies as a meal?

You may recall J, in the driving post, saying “no-one (referring to aging drivers) wants to be treated like an infant.” Also haven’t we learned that suggestions from adult children–unless asked for–may not be welcome? With this in mind, below is Sr. Advisor R’s quick, easy, no-mess, tasty, healthy meal-preparation strategy.

98-year-old R looks forward to sitting down to a meal, while she watches the news or a favorite TV program.  Can we diplomatically suggest her model, especially to those who are non-driving and living alone–without earning the Indian name “Five Horses?” (It’s a joke out here in the West–“Nag, nag, nag, nag, nag.”) OK. Here’s the information.

Meals continued: Dinner and desserts.

R’s dinner consists of a main course–often a well-balanced, heated frozen dinner, along with a salad (see Tuesday’s post) and dessert. Her favorite frozen dinners: Eating Right (Safeway brand) or Healthy Choice. Less often the main course consists of left-overs (after a restaurant meal), a rotisserie chicken purchased at the grocery store, a hot dog or frozen meat balls from a “big plastic bag” that a still-driving Swedish friend (in her mid-80’s) brings from Ikea.  In these last instances, R may heat a can of soup, bake a potato (takes longer than 15 minutes but sometimes she likes to do this) to accompany the main course, and make a salad. Salad usually contains TJ’s chopped veggies. Low fat cottage cheese and peaches or another canned fruit provide a change.

R’s sweet tooth is indulged at dessert time. Eating Right’s 100 calorie probiotic lite ice cream cups are a favorite Safeway product–4 small tubs and a wooden “spoon” are in the pack. (R prefers the mocha, but says pomegranate is nice.) Trader Joe’s package of 8 little ice cream bars, 1/2 raspberry, 1/2 vanilla are also favorites, as are their Meyer Lemon Cookie Thins.

While Kozy Shack isn’t a brand R is familiar with, I well remember an elderly friend–a widower–always asked me to get Kozy Shack tapioca and chocolate puddings for him when I went marketing. It may be an Eastern product, but it’s worth looking into. (Sugar-free puddings also available.)

For older people who don’t drive to seriously think about making a nutritious meal, the ingredients need to be within reach. R usually has at least a week’s worth of neatly stacked frozen dinners on the shelf of her small freezer above the refrigerator and always ice cream.

Low-fat milk, cereal, a loaf of 8-12 grain or whole wheat bread, cans of soup, peanut butter, bananas, orange juice, and Trader Joe’s organic, chopped, veggie salad mix are staples. Going to Trader Joe’s, to get that veggie salad mix after dinner last Monday triggered this post. And thus we’ve come full circle.

P.S. Lisa’s shared an observation about her grandmother, commenting in Tuesday’s post: “food preparation in 87+ year olds is low on the priority list. Even if they’ve enjoyed cooking for years, as they age – they enjoy it less (and of course, they’re usually only cooking for 1).”  Lisa may be expressing  a universal truism.

But there’s hope. The quote at the top of this post, is from R, who says she “doesn’t cook,” she just “heats up” the food.

PSS. A head’s up if elderly parents shop at Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s shopping carts are evidently less heavy than those at other markets. If heavy groceries aren’t centered in the cart it can tip over and cause an aging parent to fall with it–as it did with R awhile back. (Since we live far away, we only learned of this last Monday.) R wasn’t hurt, but her neighbor–much younger than we–had taken her shopping and was upset. R said it’s a lesson: frail, older people should be aware of the need to center heavy groceries in shopping carts.