Working With The Elderly – They’re Not Done Changing!


By Emily Kohler

“Honey, what is it that you’re doing over here? I’ve been so curious,” asked a gentle voice of an elderly woman, whose eyes revealed the persistence of a child. This question startled me as I poured strawberry-flavored water into tester cups at a community center, as part of my rotation with the Department of Aging. While collecting myself, I dreaded telling her that I was going to talk with the group about drinking more water, fearing I would be met with a pitiful, “oh that’s nice.” Instead, I was again startled when the woman responded with pure excitement. It was then that I had an epiphany: just because someone is elderly does not mean they lose all curiosity about improving their nutritional state.

If you’ve fought with your parents or grandparents about their health, then I know you’ll understand my presupposition – decades of habits can make someone stubborn! The real question is, have I misinterpreted stubbornness as a disinterest in health? During my rotation with Anne Arundel County’s Department of Aging I had the opportunity to visit group sites where Meals on Wheels provides congregate meals. During one visit, a group of women talked to me about the foods they eat and about their health conditions.

“I’ve seen a dietitian once for my diabetes. It was nice, but I didn’t want to tell her about the donuts I love to eat in the morning. Do you have any tips about diabetes?”

“My daughter’s visiting this weekend and I’m making her favorite pot roast recipe. And I know it’s bad, but we’re also going out for some ice cream.”

“I just got a slow cooker and I can’t figure out how to use it for the life of me. I saw a Giada recipe once I might try that. I wish I had it to show you.”

I could tell these ladies weren’t looking to completely change their lives. Sure, I could probably have found out many lifestyle changes that needed to be made, but for many, these foods are 60+ years of habits and comfort. They may not want to stop eating things that they used to make for their families or may love their sugar products, but they DO have an eagerness to understand nutrition!

Pasadena Handout

The group’s enthusiasm continued throughout the presentation and I was pleasantly bombarded with questions and comments. Many group members were proud to share their current efforts or ideas that they might try out. Others just simply wanted to share their sister’s husband’s friend’s cousin’s interaction with the healthcare system. Whatever it was, there still remained a sense of ownership over health topics. No, the woman eating donuts daily may never stop, and I may not see any of them drinking 8 glasses of water, but I can continue to engage them with information and tips in hopes of additional habits forming. Seniors want to grow as people and sometimes it’s as simple as including them in the conversation about some flavored water.

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