Imagine a grocery store equipped with magnifying glasses to read small text and built-in steps to reach the top shelves; or a restaurant that offers an “early bird” special that includes a guest speaker and a cooking lesson; or an online food delivery service that packages your order based on a “heart-healthy” diet.
These are just a few of the ideas that participants discussed in a recent Jewish Healthcare Foundation conference on nutrition for older adults. The 85 attendees talked about different aspects of nutrition, from how older adults think about and access food to how caregivers and facilities aid them in maintaining a healthy diet, to how communities can improve places like grocery stores and restaurants to better cater to older adults.
“It really does take a village to nourish a senior,” Leslie Bonci, the owner of the nutrition consulting company Active Eating, told participants at the end of the day-long event. Now, she continued, they had to combine all of their ideas and resources to “create something that is comprehensive for every senior.”
The event, called “Ordering Up Health & Nutrition for Seniors,” was part of a larger JHF series, “Senior Connections Charrette,” made up of five sessions to help older adults in different aspects of life, including exercise, housing and geriatric healthcare. The series began in summer 2016 and will end in October with a final session on behavioral health.
Karen Wolk Feinstein, president and CEO of JHF, said organizers chose to call the series “Charrette” because of its meaning in architecture that it’s time to put your best model forward and then discuss which ones to implement. Each session was designed to encourage brainstorming in break-out groups about barriers and successes in the community and possible solutions and goals.
“The sense is that we’ve been relatively unimaginative,” she said. “What would a community look like if it was really designed for seniors?”
At the end, Feinstein said they will connect ideas from each charrette and put them into action with Age-Friendly Pittsburgh, an organization working to make the city more accessible and welcoming for older adults.
In Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, about 28 percent of adults are 65 years or older, according to the 2017 Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study, released in February.
During last week’s session, participants focused on both the clinic side, including chronic disease management, long-term care and creating an informed team of caregivers, and ways the community can get involved, from pharmacies to farmer’s markets.
They also discussed food insecurity and malnutrition, something that isn’t often recognized in older adults, according to many conference attendees. Matthew Bolton, director of the Jewish Family and Community Services Squirrel Hill Food Pantry, said that of the 1,200 individuals the food pantry serves monthly, about 300 of them are older adults.
Sharan Weir, director of dining at Weinberg Terrace, said collaboration among the staff and training is crucial to making sure older adults in senior-living facilities are eating properly. For example, she said, if a resident is having trouble using utensils, they can bring in an occupational therapist to help, or if a resident cannot swallow their food, they can bring in a speech pathologist.
“You have places where someone says, ‘Well she didn’t eat … maybe she’s not hungry.’ Well, it’s not that she’s not hungry, it’s that she can’t eat, or she doesn’t know who to ask,” Weir said. “A lot of what it comes down to is hearing what people want and what they like and what they don’t like it. And you have to be sincere about it.”
Weir and executive director Rena Becker said the charrette helped reinforce that a lot of their ideas were on the right track. One thing they plan to implement, Becker said, was changing the name of food committees to “Let’s Dish.”
At the end of the charrette, many attendees determined that one important step to take was to connect many of the services already in place, helping organizations reach more people and foster more connections.
“One of the greatest outcomes of today was the creation of a community around this issue,” Nancy Zionts, chief operating officer and chief program officer for JHF, said after the event.
For Zionts, the connections formed are just as important as the ideas brought to the table, especially because when talking about improving quality of life for older adults, so many people have a personal story that partly shapes their thinking. It helps to turn concepts from an “abstract noun” to a real person.
“Everything’s up in the air,” she said. “And we can rethink everything.” PJC
A previous version of this story also incorrectly stated the number of people the Jewish Family and Community Services Squirrel Hill Food pantry serves. The Pantry serves 1,200 people each month. The Chronicle regrets this error. This story has also been updated to reflect that Karen Wolk Feinstein is president and CEO of Jewish Healthcare Foundation.