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Healthy ageing: Social eating

Q My dad died earlier this year, and although my 83-year-old mum is still very independent, she tells us she’s lonely and misses having company at meal times. She also appears to be losing weight. Do you have any suggestions to help?

A Thanks for your question. It’s one I often get asked after someone’s partner dies. About half of people over 80 experience problems with loneliness, all or most of the time. And this can have an effect on wellness, because loneliness and social isolation can both affect eating habits. For many, mealtimes are a social occasion and older people eat more in company.

There may be many reasons your mother’s eating habits have changed, including grieving for your father, not enjoying cooking for one and a change in her social routines. She may enjoy meals more when she shares

Make eating food at home, joins pot luck meals or celebrates special occasions with family or friends at a local café. If family members live close by, they could call around for meals and share in the preparation.

Providing meals for a person living alone is not the same as eating a meal together. Older people will tell you that contact at meal times, such as the conversations with Meals on Wheels volunteer drivers, is just as important as the meal itself.

With Christmas coming, it’s even more important for us to look out for family or neighbours who are alone and might enjoy connecting with others for shared meals.

Older people are living independently, in the community, for longer and we’ll keep hearing about people who feel lonely and isolated. We can support them to remain connected to their communities through sharing meals, which will help to improve their quality of life and wellness. Inviting someone living alone for a meal in the festive season would be a good start.

First published: Dec 2018
Last updated: November 28 2018
Last science review: November 15 2018



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