Japan, with the world’s greatest proportion of senior citizens, is busy developing innovative ways to include a rapidly growing elder population in community life and adapt to the changing needs of a “greying” society.
Recently the New York Times reported on a restaurant in Yokohama where staff accommodates nearby nursing home residents by pureeing meals when elderly clients have difficulty chewing.
And nursing homes in the city are also experimenting with cooking methods and ingredients to help make meals both easy to eat as well as appealing. Enjoying a meal is not just about getting adequate nutrition to maintain good health, it is also a very social activity that can often be the highlight of an elderly resident’s day.
Social isolation can be a serious problem for older adults, causing seniors to lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, neglect their health or become depressed. By helping to solve some of the problems surrounding eating, seniors with chewing or swallowing problems are able to enjoy food with varied taste and appearance, (if not texture) making the experience much more enjoyable.
Nursing home residents at the Mutuai nursing home, also in Yokohama, are given special dietary attention to ensure they are able to eat safely while enjoying their food. For those with more severe problems with swallowing, food is pureed with a gel powder and then re-formed into recognizable shapes; a carrot, rice or a piece of fish.
Japanese hotels and restaurants are beginning to offer senior-friendly meal options as well, much in the same way North American establishments provide kids’ menus. With such a large segment of the population entering old age, businesses cannot be profitable without appealing to elderly customers as well as young.
Making pureed food appealing for seniors with eating problems is not unique to Japan, many nursing homes and long-term care facilities offer specialized diet options, including pureed foods. A culinary program implemented by Trinity Senior Living Communities and their food supplier Unidine, based in Boston, trains staff to puree the same food served to other residents which is then piped or molded back into it’s original form. The Puree with a Purpose program has helped reduce unintended weight loss among residents from 4 per cent to 1.1 per cent while also reducing costs and the need for dietary supplements. To read more about the program visit the ABC12 News website by following this link.