Starved of friendship…how 1million pensioners will eat alone all summer

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It could lead to a rise in the number of elderly people suffering from starvation and malnutrition, the research suggests. The loneliness epidemic means solitary mealtimes are the norm for almost 1.2 million people aged over 75.

Almost a fifth of over-75s go three months or longer without having someone to dine with. And one in 10 of those admit they have less of an appetite as a result.

The analysis was conducted by Bournemouth University’s Ageing and Dementia Research Centre. The survey of 1,013 adults aged 50-plus found that more than a quarter of over-75s believe they do not need as much food as they used to.

Some 20 per cent struggle to cook their own food and more than a third regularly skip meals, with nine per cent doing so on a daily basis. About 1.3 million older people in the UK are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, costing the NHS an estimated £19billion a year.

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Pensioners face the prospect of losing motivation to eat due to isolation, depression and loneliness (Image: GETTY )


It’s a myth to assume that losing weight and becoming frail are an inevitable or natural part of the ageing process

Jane Murphy

Professor Jane Murphy, of Bournemouth University, said: “It’s a myth to assume that losing weight and becoming frail are an inevitable or natural part of the ageing process.

“Malnutrition is largely preventable and treatable, and yet this growing problem for our ageing population is often overshadowed by the health concerns of obesity.”

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “The idea that so many older people are forever eating alone is heart-breaking since for most of us enjoying a meal in the company of others is one of the simple pleasures in life.

“Chronic loneliness is not only horrible to experience day in, day out, it can also have a devastating impact on an older person’s mental and physical health.

 

“It’s wrong to assume that malnutrition and dehydration belong to the past, they are still very much present today, but the reality is that poor nutrition and hydration are often not recognised by older people, families or health care professionals.

“The risk of becoming undernourished increases significantly as people age and it is further complicated by the false assumption that losing weight is a normal part of the ageing process, whereas in fact it is a cause for concern.”

Experts say loneliness, isolation and depression may mean some older people simply lose the motivation to eat and cook for themselves.

Sam Dick, director at the Campaign To End Loneliness, said: “Eating together is one of the best ways to connect, which is vital for health and wellbeing.

 

“It’s incredibly worrying that so many older people are missing out on that simple pleasure that so many of us take for granted, and it can have very serious consequences.”

Martin Jones, managing director of care company Home Instead, which commissioned the research, said: “Malnutrition is a serious issue, which is compounded by, and exacerbates, other serious health issues often experienced by older people.

“We can all play a part in keeping food as a positive part of daily life for people as they age, by recognising when someone is struggling to prepare meals themselves, or when they are losing interest in eating.

“By knowing what to look out for, and what nutrition requirements look like, we can help make food and eating enjoyable again.

 

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People are being encouraged to spend time with pensioners over the summer (Image: GETTY )

“We’re encouraging people to share meals with older relatives or neighbours over the summer holidays.”

Home Instead is launching the Stay Nourished initiative in consultation with specialists at Bournemouth University to help families spot malnutrition in the elderly and dispel misconceptions around diet and appetite for older generations.

Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Tracey Crouch as “minister for loneliness” earlier this year and unveiled a £20million fund for charities and community groups to “help isolated people and those suffering from loneliness”.

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Two’s company… Marjorie’s carer, Catherine, helps her make meal (Image: MATT BRISTOW/MATTBRISTOW.NET)

Case study 

When 99-year-old Marjorie, from Sevenoaks, Kent, was widowed in 2000, she often ate alone. With both her grown-up children living at least 50 miles away, they couldn’t spend many mealtimes together.

Mealtimes became a chore and, although she was once a keen cook, Marjorie began to feel it was not worth going to a lot of trouble cooking a decent meal just for herself.

“It felt lonely having most of my meals alone and eating wasn’t enjoyable any more,” she said.

“I didn’t want to lose control over what I was eating by having someone come in and tell me what I was eating that day.

“In 2014 I found out about Home Instead Senior Care. The carers there help me with my shopping and provide companionship.

“They visit six lunchtimes a week to help me prepare lunch and supper, and also take me to the supermarket once a week.

“I don’t want someone else making all the decisions about what I eat. Every day we look in the fridge and freezer together, so I can choose what I want to have for lunch.

“Then I put together a list of foods that I enjoy eating.”

This extra support has helped her to reignite her passion for food.

Marjorie said: “It makes a huge difference having someone around helping me prepare my meals and eating with me. It really makes mealtimes a pleasure again.

“I still eat with family when they visit on Sundays. Between the carers and my family, I have someone to eat with most days.

“I wouldn’t like to do it on my own. I like their help and company.”



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