About the SeniorAdvisor.com 2014 In-Home Innovation Scholarship: We started the scholarship program to bring awareness of the unique benefits and challenges of in-home caregiving for seniors to younger generations. The questions posed by the scholarship encouraged our nation’s future caregivers to present solutions for improving home care in the United States. College-aged students were required to answer one of the three essay topics below and provide a short bio as part of their scholarship application. Read the winning essays here.
How can your major of study improve the lives of seniors receiving in-home care services?
Essay response by Jenna Jarvis, Indiana State University
As I pursue my career in dietetics, I have become increasingly aware of the medical impact that nutrition therapy has on health, wellness, and quality of life. While most senior citizens will agree that having in-home care is much preferred over the confines of a nursing home or convalescent center, there are challenges in managing daily living requirements. Many of those challenges are related to dietary issues.
The Feeding America website predicts a steady increase in the population of older adults, possibly through the year 2040. These statistics support an increased need for home-delivered meal programs, grocery delivery programs, nutrition education, food preparation assistance, and nutrition therapy counseling. A condition that Feeding America describes as “food insecurity” is a source of concern for senior citizens. The result is the presence of malnutrition, degenerative and chronic health disorders, and an inferior quality of life.
There are many ways that my services as a registered dietitian will improve the lives of seniors receiving in-home care. Although a basic knowledge of nutrition, food preparation skills, cost effective food purchasing, and healthy meal planning practices are beneficial for any age, these fundamentals of healthy living become more vital yet more challenging for older persons. Seniors are apt to experience a decrease in energy, strength, and flexibility. At the same time they tend to undergo an increase in a wide range of health conditions including physical such as heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and arthritis, and mental such as memory loss and depression. In addition, seniors experience a loss of taste combined with declining dental health which contribute to poor eating habits. Financially, many seniors face a reduction in income at retirement and are unable to secure employment to supplement those resources.
As a visiting dietitian for in-home health care my primary mission would be to educate. Medical nutrition therapy can offer ways to manage countless health conditions common to seniors. Often the commitment to an improved diet can decrease or even eliminate the need for prescription medications, which can be costly and frequently cause troubling side effects. I would also offer information regarding community services, demonstrate modified cooking skills and food products for healthier meals, and provide advice for managing food costs. All of these above-mentioned approaches should be presented in a caring and respectful manner in order to establish a favorable relationship with clients.
I also have the option of using my education and certification in dietetics to work with agencies that have the power to improve legislation and services available to the older generation. As a professional in government health agencies, I would advocate funding for programs and partnerships that would assist seniors with many areas of health and fitness issues.
My life experiences have caused me to realize the importance of maintaining a healthy and suitable living arrangement for the aging population. I was a teenager when both of my grandmothers struggled with this issue. As they aged, they became overwhelmed with their decline in physical and mental capacity to manage what used to be everyday tasks. The fear of losing their independence and the security and comfort of their own living space was a constant worry. I also worked in a nursing home facility for three years and observed the negative effects of age-related dependency. In conclusion it is my opinion that the services of a dietitian can impact physical, emotional, mental, and financial wellness of senior citizens. When “food insecurity” is addressed and managed, our older members of society will experience a much needed improvement in quality of life. Dietetics professionals can have a profound influence on preserving a content, independent lifestyle for those entering their golden years.
Jenna is a graduate student in the Coordinated Program for Dietetics at Indiana State University.