Eating Your Way Out of Old Age

Eating Your Way Out of Old Age

Whilst wisdom might be wasted on the young, that same wisdom helps people cope with physical changes which happen to the older physique.

Ageing weakens the frame and makes once straightforward tasks a little more challenging.

In varying degrees, ageing can bring symptoms of general weakness, arthritis, weakness of grip, shaking hands and reduced dexterity, mobility changes, unsure balance, eyesight changes, joint pain and memory loss.

In older age, it is common to move away from healthy eating and simply eat to keep going. The fact is that eating sensibly promotes a healthier body and mind.

Working in the kitchen may become a chore, so finding the right kitchen aids and utensils plays a big part in bringing enjoyment back into food preparation and consumption, as well as back into entertaining.

Mobility

The kitchen is one of the two most dangerous rooms in a house. Team this with tightness of space and then thought needs to go into making this important room safely accessible and inviting.

For the individual who needs support when walking, there are several ways of making moving around safer:

  • a walking cane allows one to move around but could restrict the person when trying to carry a plate of prepared food
  • grab rails in appropriate places in the kitchen will allow the user to safely make his / her way around the kitchen
  • a walking frame will allow comfortable access in and around the kitchen but it will also restrict the person when trying to carry plates or cups to another room
  • a food trolley has wheels and has a place to put food and drink. Pushing a food trolley will allow the user to hold onto something steady when moving from room to room
  • a wheelchair user would need a bigger than average kitchen, as turning space may be necessary when moving from one area to another. A wheelchair table accessory will allow the user to safely carry food and drink.

Keeping Moving Around to a Minimum

An ideal, ergonomically friendly, kitchen will display a triangular layout between the sink, oven and fridge, the three most used items in a kitchen. Having these three areas close together will cut down on a lot of toing and froing from one place to another and make working in the kitchen safer and less tiring.

Keep a portion of the worktop right next to the oven clear at all times, to allow you to lift hot items from the oven onto a flat surface both quickly and easily.

Know which items you use most often and have them all in the same cupboard, or at least within easy reach. This will include kitchen utensils, mixing bowls, pans, baking trays, as well as cups, plates, cereal bowls and cutlery.

Getting to Grips with Appropriate Kitchen Aids and Utensils

With weakened grip and reduced strength, ‘easy to do’ tasks can become not so easy. Finding the right aid or utensil can make ‘easy-to-do’ once again within your grasp.

Opening tins and jars can be difficult for us all. Many tins are now ring pull design and some tins come with their own twister key. Difficulty with gripping, because of arthritis or weakened grip will benefit from such kitchen utensils as:-

  • manual and electric jar openers, which can free the lid on an unopened jar but be sure which design will work best for you, before purchasing
  • hands-free tin openers and ring pull tin openers, which now make opening tins easier and safer.

For reaching food items which seem to be a stretch away, a reaching stick or ‘grabber’ can help the user reach items just out of reach, whether they are too high, too low, or at the back of a cupboard that he / she can’t quite reach into.

Holding on to that all important mixing bowl can be aided by purchasing a bowl which has a grip edge or handles.

If you’re going the whole way in preparing your meal, slicing and chopping meat and vegetables may feel out of your comfort zone, so purchasing a rocker knife will give back the confidence you need. Instead of pressing down on a knife, the semi-circular rocker knife does what it says, rocking over the food item to cut it into smaller pieces.

Preparing a meal involves using quite a few kitchen utensils, including scissors, spatulas, a masher, large spoons and ladles, a rolling pin and knives. To cut down on walking, keep all of these utensils close at hand, either in a utensil holder or a drawer.

When placing items into, or taking items out of, a hot oven, it’s easy to burn one’s fingers and wrists on the extremely hot shelf edges. A protective oven rack guard (made from a high temperature resistant fabric) which fits along the length of each shelf can protect you from such burns.

Reduced Vision

Reduced vision can include blurred eyesight, loss of peripheral vision (i.e. being able to see straight ahead but not being able to see much to the right or left, without moving one’s head to accommodate this), sensitivity to bright light and many other changes, which can happen to our eyesight over time.

Spotlights directed to the most used areas of the kitchen will make this room a much safer place. Use warm shades of light rather than bright lights, as glare can create difficulty in focusing.

A magnifying glass will prove priceless for ageing eyesight, helping with reading recipes, packet instructions and information displayed on ovens, microwaves and hobs.

Making a hot drink can become worrying for the person who doesn’t have clear vision. A kettle tipper will take the stress out of lifting the kettle and will prevent burns and scalds, by directing the water safely into the cup.

Memory Loss

Memory loss is something that may come with age. This could be random forgetfulness, or might be brought on by lack of sleep, worry or stress. Forgetfulness can also be because of conditions such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

In the kitchen, a pan boiling dry and food being burnt in the oven happens to us all.

Using a kitchen timer can save the hard work which comes with cleaning up the mess that forgetting can create. Purchase one which you can carry on your person, so that it remains with you, wherever you are.

Preparing the Table

Shaking and reduced dexterity, weakened grip, reduced vision and other changes which can develop in later years may mean that identifying appropriate cutlery and tableware will help the user maintain his / her independence for longer.

For weakness of grip and reduced strength, shop for serving dishes and cups which have two handles. Sharing the load between two hands can make the task easier and safer.

Shaking hands can be helped by carrying weighted items e.g. a heavy mug will stay steadier than a light teacup.

For reduced dexterity and weakened grip, look for cutlery with wider handles, or use Velcro hand straps, which will keep your cutlery attached to your hand during the eating process.

If the individual has reduced dexterity, a scooper plate, or indeed a modern-style pasta bowl (a plate with a raised edge used for pasta meals) will stop food being worked off the end of the plate.

To stop cups and plates fidgeting on the table, secure them to a silicon gripper tablemat, or use tableware which has suction grips.

For individuals with vision loss, a compartmentalised plate or bowl allows for food items to be kept in place, making it easier to both scoop the food up and know where different items are on the plate.

Entertaining

Most people are social by nature and age brings with it fewer people passing over the doorstep.

Loneliness can bring on depression and stress. Good company releases ‘happy hormones’, which include oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin, all of which give a boost to the day.

Eating in company is much more stimulating than eating alone. Inviting a friend to enjoy a meal, whether made from scratch or bought readymade, will prove to be a natural tonic.

Summary

Consider fitting grab rails in the kitchen, to aid moving around safely.

Store kitchen gadgets, utensils and tableware in easy to reach areas, to help you cut down on toing and froing during food preparation.

Bear in mind that utensils in a utensil holder will be open to the elements and so these utensils should be washed regularly and not only after use.

When making the kitchen workable for you, think of your needs and what will bring passion back into the cooking process.

Try to get into the habit of making extra food, as freezing what is left can provide you with a quick meal at a later date, whilst saving on gas or electricity and also on the preparation time and washing up.

Entertaining lifts the spirit. Preparing a meal for more than just you will bring added bonuses.

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Sally Madeley-Carr, OT

Sally Madeley-Carr, OT

Sally qualified as an Occupational Therapist in 1996 and is a well-respected professional in the field of rehabilitation equipment and living aids. She has worked in private practice and within the NHS, developing a broad experience with adults and children. Click here for Sally's registration with the Health and Care Professions Council. The HCPC regulates health, physchological and social work professionals in the UK.

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