Life Times Newsletter

Summer 2008
Vol. 10, No. 3

Healthy eating: Preserving one of lifeís pleasures

Linda S. Rellergert, MS
Nutrition & Health Education Specialist

Eating is a pleasure to enjoy throughout life, helping us survive and even thrive. However, eating can sometimes become less of a pleasure as people get older due to changes that may occur normally with age. If eating loses its appeal, health can suffer.

. After age 60, it is common for hearing sensitivity to decline by 10 decibels with each decade. Hearing loss may mean elders have more difficulty understanding speech, especially when there are competing background noises, such as in a restaurant or other social setting. Going out to eat or getting together with friends for a meal may lose appeal. As a result, the older person may become more socially isolated, depressed and eat more poorly.

Eye changes affect color perception as well as ability to see clearly. Lighting is especially critical, with both low levels of light and glare causing difficulty. It may be a problem to read labels, shop for food, or cook.

Smell, taste and touch.
By age 80, the sense of smell is reduced by about half for most people. The lack of ability to smell spoiled food can lead to indigestion and food poisoning.

Many older adults complain that foods donít taste as good as they used to. While it is normal for some loss of taste sensations to occur with age, poorly fitting dentures and reduction in saliva production can also be at fault. Also, some medications change flavor perception.

Touch receptors in the skin decrease with age, reducing the sense of touch and sensitivity to pain. Older adults are more likely to suffer from burns because they donít feel temperature changes as acutely as when younger.

Here are some tips for preserving the pleasure of eating:

   A quiet, calm atmosphere is more pleasant for dining. In restaurants or at large family gatherings, it might be helpful to sit in a relatively quiet spot or where it will be easy to see verbal cues. For a hearing
 impaired person, smaller groups where only one conversation is going on will be more pleasant than large groups.

   Use bright colors for table settings. Create a contrast between dishes and table covering.

   Keep color in mind when planning meals. Remember:
 We eat with our eyes first. Think about how food will look on the plate. Borrow some tricks of plating and garnishing food from restaurants to make it look even more appealing.

   Warm foods tend to have more aroma than cold or room temperature. This may add to their appeal. Be careful of hot spots in microwaved foods, which could burn.

   Check refrigerator, freezer and pantry for outdated foods. Label and date leftovers clearly so it is easy to see when to discard for safety's sake.

   Season food well. Use herbs, spices, lemon juice, wine and vinegars. Blah is bland at any age!

   Take care of denture or dental problems, which may cause pain or difficulty with chewing and eating.

   Eat outdoors or where there is a view of the outdoors for a pleasant change, especially if there is a bird feeder to attract wildlife.

   Ask health care providers about effect of medications on taste, smell or appetite. Other options are often available to try. 

   Stay physically active to promote a healthy appetite, retain strength and mobility and lift the spirits.

  Stay in touch with family and friends; keep up social contacts. Social isolation may lead to depression and poor eating habits. Most communities and many houses of worship have centers where older adults gather for meals and opportunities to socialize.

   Use the DETERMINE checklist as a screening tool to find out if someone is at nutrition risk. The warning signs of poor nutritional health can be overlooked. Find this checklist at Or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: DETERMINE Checklist, University of Missouri Extension, 260 Brown Road, St. Peters, MO 63376.

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University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller