Senior Spotlight: Special Diets

One of the things that families of my patients often ask is “How can I make sure my parent or loved one is getting what they need if they’re required to follow a special diet, without taking away their independence?”   Instead of trying to take control completely,  I’ll often suggest having a conversation about the options that are available, to see what might be the best fit for their lives, while giving caretakers peace of mind.

Here are some stress-free ways programs designed to help seniors with special food needs.

1. Meals On Wheels

Meals On Wheels is the largest national provider of senior meal services. The umbrella organization is composed of 5,000 nutrition programs found in towns and cities across the country. In some counties, Meals On Wheels is the only service that distributes meals to the home-bound.

2. Personal Chef to Go

Personal Chef to Go delivers lunches and dinners that follow the American Heart Association’s guidelines for healthy living. Meals designed for couples, singles or families also incorporate ethnic flavors such as Mediterranean, Asian or Latin American.

3., based in Los Altos, California, prides itself on delivering handmade, homestyle main dishes, desserts, soups and sides. “We don’t do gourmet-style food. We make the kinds of things people would have had during Sunday dinner with family or friends at home when they were growing up,” says CEO Greg Miller. The frozen-meal service also can accommodate special dietary needs including low-sodium, diabetic, renal, dialysis and portion-controlled diets.

4. Senior Centers

Some community senior centers provide hot meals for local residents or can recommend reputable meal services for the area. “Any average Joe can open up a service to make money off seniors, so it’s important to find businesses with good reputations,” says Liz Perrigue, a certified senior advisor with Visiting Angels, a non-medical home care agency in Pasadena, California. Churches also might offer in-person or takeout meals to local seniors. Check with the local municipality for businesses and locations.

5. Personal Chef

If you have the cash to splurge, consider hiring a personal chef to cook in your parents’ home several times a week, or prepare and freeze a number of meals at once to last throughout the week. Because personal chefs cook for individual clients, they can tailor meals to seniors’ unique dietary needs and preferences. Gather background information and references on the chef—they will come into the senior’s home, so it’s important to be safe.

Also, if you’re not sure what’s a good start for basic nutrition, here’s a handy chart you can share!


February: Senior Hunger Awareness Month

An agonizing choice: stay hungry or stay

The percentage of 75- to 84-year-old seniors falling into poverty doubled from 2005 to 2009.  That was before the recession.  Income, for most elderly Americans, comes largely from Social Security.  Almost three quarters of single Social Security recipients 65 or older depend on Social Security for all or most of their income, monthly average $1,300 per month.  Global AgeWatch reports that income security for U.S. seniors is among the worst in the developed world.

Forbes called it “The Greatest Retirement Crisis in the History of the World”.
The costs of living — basic expenses like food, housing, health care and transportation — are too much for millions of people aged 65 and older to bear.  Today’s seniors are often placed in the position of having to choose between food and medicine.  In a nutshell:  poverty can be fatal.
So what can we do to help find solutions to senior hunger and food insecurity?  When do we look at hunger as a health issue?  As part of Senior Hunger Awareness Month, here are some small ways everyone can pitch end to help end hunger.


Volunteer:  Most food banks have a host of opportunities available year-round; including preparation and distribution.  This is a great way to manage your commitment and share in family-driven fun while giving back to the community.  Houston’s Food Bank takes volunteers as young as 6-years old, and also supplies School/Youth Group and Corporate Volunteer options!
Donate:  If you can’t give of your time, perhaps a financial contribution is an easier fit.  For every $1 donated, the Feeding America network of food banks secures and distributes 11 meals to people facing hunger.  AARP Foundation serves ages 50+ with their DriveToEndHunger.  Interfaith Ministries’ Meals on Wheels for Greater Houston program provides a home-delivered meal to home-bound seniors over 60 and their spouses.

photos-medleyphoto-11384781Eat Out and/or Shop:   If you use an AARP Credit Card from Chase, with every restaurant purchase made using the card, Chase donates 10 cents to AARP Foundation in support of Drive to End Hunger (up to $1 million in 2016).  Plus, during February, AARP Hunger Awareness Month, Chase will double its donation to 20 cents (up to an additional $100,000). Denny’s will also donate 25 cents to support Drive to End Hunger during February for every AARP Membership Card that is shown at a participating restaurant (up to $250,000).  The Souper Bowl of Caring teams up with local grocery stores like H-E-B, Kroger or Randalls to make the purchase of prepared food donation bags a simple addition to your shopping list!

volunteering-how-do-you-give-back-2Share Knowledge:  If you or someone you know is experiencing hunger, please reach out.  The National Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAPS) offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. The government funded Food and Nutrition Service works with State agencies, nutrition educators, and neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure that those eligible for nutrition assistance can make informed decisions about applying for the program and can access benefits.

More than 5 million senior citizens age 60 and older face hunger.   Together, with our best talents, we can make a difference!

Chef Angel V



The Right Time To Consider Assisted Living?

A family is often faced with the difficult decision of when is the right time to move an elderly parent to assisted living or possibly a nursing home.  Many seniors believe they can take care of themselves for the rest of their lives.  Often, even the process of getting them to consider it meets extreme resistance, event though studies have shown that most falls occur inside the home.  Each family situation is very different and it may help you to answer some of the following questions when considering this decision.


1. Can your parent move about safely in home including negotiating stairs, getting in and out of bathroom and narrow doorways?
2. Have frequent falls become a problem recently?
3. Does your parent have or use necessary safety equipment such as raised toilet frames, bath tub seats, and personal emergency devices?
4. Have any accidents occurred recently with appliances in home such as the stove or forgetting to turn it off properly?
5. If your parent smokes, has he or she had any accidents such as burn holes in clothing or bedding?
6. In the event of a fire, do you feel your parent would follow appropriate emergency measures including calling 911 and leaving premises?
7. Is your parent bathing regularly and able to maintain adequate hygiene including grooming such as hair washing, shaving and oral care?
8. Is your parent changing clothes daily or has he or she developed the habit of wearing the same dirty ones over and over again?
9. Has your parent become progressively dependent on help with Activities of Daily Living? (eating, dressing, bathing)
10. Does you parent allow outside help when needed to come in and help with personal care, housekeeping chores, and meal preparation?

If the answer to any of the above  is yes, what’s the right way to broach the subject?

Tips From The Experts:
Start the conversation early.  Keep an open and honest line of communication with parents regarding thoughts, desires and plans of action.  Take the surprise and fear out of possible future plans by discussing possibilities and laying groundwork.

Read more about The Importance Of Regular Conversations here.

Teaching Family Members Medical Skills

I’m going through a personal experience right now.  My mother’s mother, who I’m very close to, is currently in a rehabilitative center as she mends from a broken hip obtained this spring.  I hate the thought of her being in pain, or suffering and I’m glad she’s getting the care she needs to heal.  But worst of all, I’m worried about what should happen when she comes home, and if she should fall again, alone, if her caretaker or my uncle aren’t there with her.

I know what to do in these situations – after all, I’ve been in geriatric health care for the past 15+ years.  The problem is I’m in Houston and she’s in Chicago.  So I’ve found myself in the position of having to communicate long-distance with the family members that ARE there on how best to provide medical care and skills for her in my absence, and I know that many other families often experience the same situations, as more and more hospitals send patients home after shorter stays and many patients live with multiple chronic diseases.

As care at home becomes more common, families are taking on complicated medical tasks such as giving injections, changing surgical dressings and operating special medical equipment, often with little instruction.

An estimated 43.5 million adults provide care at home for a chronically ill, disabled or elderly relative, according to a 2015 report by the AARP Public Policy Institute. Now, a new push is under way to train family caregivers in skills once only provided by medical professionals in hospitals and nursing homes.

Families provide the bulk of the care to our aging population in the home, and many caregivers struggle with the nursing aspects of care, such as managing medications and complex wound care,” says Heather M. Young, dean of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at University of California, Davis. “While intimidating, it is well within their abilities with the right tools and training.”

Research conducted by AARP and the United Hospital Fund found that almost half of family caregivers performed medical or nursing tasks. Three out of four of those were managing medications, including administering intravenous fluids and injections.


Most caregivers told the researchers they received little or no training to perform those tasks. While insurers pay for some home health-care services, they are typically limited to a short period after discharge. Nearly 70% of patients had no home visit from a health-care professional after a hospital discharge, the AARP—United Hospital Fund research found.

The UC Davis nursing school has teamed up with AARP to create a series of online how-to videos for family caregivers.

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Here are some tips on what to do if we’re the ones caring for our loved ones.
Thanks AARP, for shedding light on a subject that needs to be addressed.

Family Caregiver’s Video Guide to Managing Medications


Geriatric Nutrition: Late On-Set Food Allergies

Elderly patients are at higher risk of food allergy due to their aging immune systems.

As individuals age, so do our immune systems. With the significant increase in life expectancy, its projected that by 2050, more than 80 million adults will be aged 65 or older while another 20 million adults will be aged 85 or older. This rapidly growing geriatric population will experience “immunosenescence”, the aging of the immune system.

As a chef specializing in the health & medicine sector, I’ve experienced my fair share of patients and/or clients who’ve experienced the late on-set of food allergies.  Allergies can occur at any time in life.  The symptoms can range from mild to severe.  In some cases health care professionals may not always identify the reported symptoms as potential food allergies. Oftentimes they can be incorrectly mistaken for problems with medication, sleep deprivation, environmental allergies, GI issues, viruses, autoimmune disorders, or simply attributed to general aging effects.

There are 8 foods most commonly responsible for allergic reactions:  milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.

Here are some tips to keep an eye out for if you suspect you or someone you love may have a food allergy, as well as some steps to treat it!

Sudden physical reaction; often triggered by only a small amount of food.
Rash, hives, or itchy skin.
Shortness of breath.
Chest pain.
Sudden drop in blood pressure, trouble swallowing or breathing — this is life-threatening. Call 911 immediately.

Keep a food diary and record symptoms as they occur.
Test different foods for their reaction; called a Food Trial Elimination.
See a doctor for an allergy test. Better to be safe than sorry!

Read more about Treatment & Managing Reactions here.

April: Spotlight on Senior Hunger

Even though February has come and gone, April can equal awareness as well, and this month I’m talking Senior Hunger.  It’s a health issue, and more so, food insecurity among older adults is something (in my opinion) that’s severely over looked.

More than 10 million older adults struggle every day with limited or no regular access to affordable, nutritious food, and it’s likely to get far worse…

Senior hunger statistics show that the number of older adults is going to increase over the next decade and continue to rise in the following. In 2040 there will be 79.7 million older adults; more than twice as many as in 2000.  These changing demographics will have a great impact on the demand for social outreach, especially the need for adequate and appropriate nutrition services.

There are some wonderful national programs that are fighting to reduce Senior Hunger, such as the AARP Foundation, and Feeding America, but today I want to showcases some great local Houston partners as well as some tips for bringing awareness and finding solutions!

If you or someone you know is in need, below are some great links to Houston programs that help provide food to the hungry.  Please share! 

Northwest Assistance Ministries – 281-583-5600
The Joanne Watford Nutrition Center is a choice food pantry that operates much like a grocery store. Clients choose their own food from designated categories, including fresh produce, meat, dairy and frozen items. Through the Senior Food Program, low-income seniors also receive supplemental groceries each month.

Houston Food Bank – 832-369-9390
The Senior Box Program is funded through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, a federal program designed to improve the health and nutrition of income eligible seniors. Seniors receive a box of food each month with a retail value of $50, which helps stretch their fixed incomes to keep food on the table.

Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston –  713-533-4978
Interfaith Ministries’ Meals on Wheels for Greater Houston program provides a home-delivered meal to homebound seniors over 60 and their spouses. The program also delivers breakfast and weekend meals to the most frail and isolated seniors. This nutritional support helps seniors stay independent and in their own homes.

Remember, caring comes in a million different ways.  Donations to these wonderful programs are always needed.  If you can’t donate, here are some other ways to help.

29 Ways To Combat Hunger Year-Round
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“Love is not patronizing and charity isn’t about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same — with charity you give love, so don’t just give money but reach out your hand instead.” ― Mother Teresa



March is National Nutrition Month!

We love March!  Winter (should be) on it’s way out, and we look forward to the tasty treats that Spring brings as it warms up all over the nation.  Spring is a great time to fill up on fresh fruits, veggies and juices – and to get back out in the action – exercise those winter blues away.  There’s no one diet that is right for everyone though, so it’s important to follow a healthy and reasonable eating plan that’s packed with tasty foods and keeps your unique lifestyle in mind.

Seniors are one the highest at risk age groups for mal-nourishment.  Not only do they have different nutritional needs than younger adults, they also take more medication, have higher rates of chronic medical conditions-such as diabetes and heart disease-and are more likely to live alone; all of which contribute to the rising numbers of older Americans who are seriously impacted by a deficient diet.

As we go through March, let’s keep some signs and symptoms  front and center, and always, and be aware of ways to make sure the older loved on in our life is getting the healthy foods (and sometimes supplements) they need.