Before my family realized that Millie, my grandmother, had issues with dementia we knew that she had issues with food. Millie came from a generation where you cleaned your plate and you never took for granted that there was food in your pantry. In fact I remember my grandmother being almost compulsive about making sure that the kitchen pantry was always stocked.
Millie was on a fixed income and she was fantastic at budgeting. She mapped out her weekly expenses literally by figuring what errands to run in the order that would save her the most gas. It was a shock to discover that when faced with some new health issues my grandmother pushed food to the bottom of the list.
She would either skip eating altogether or she would eat food that had spoiled or gone rancid. She became trapped in this weird cycle of buying grocery items in bulk to save but then not being able to eat them before they expired and then not wanting to let anything that she has invested money in go to waste
I moved in with Millie a few weeks before our family got the official diagnosis of her Alzheimer's. One of the first tasks that we did together was clean up the kitchen. Even thinking about that day now makes me emotional. In order to afford medications and extra gas for doctor's visits my grandmother had been eating food that was nearly a decade old.
At a time in her life where she absolutely needed as much nutritional support as possible she was getting virtually none. My Mother and I immediately jumped in and spoke to her doctor about what kind of food was best for someone in her condition and there is no way that Millie could have purchased it on her fixed income.
Millie only endured food insecurity for a brief moment before we were able to help her. However there are so many seniors dealing with hunger issues right now and many of them will not or can not speak up and ask for help.
In 2009, about one in three Americans age 65 years or older lived in low-income families and social security accounted for at least 70 percent of the cash income of poor and near-poor older adults. In 2009, nearly 4 million people over the age of 60 and nearly 9 million people over age 50 were food insecure.
Those are some scary numbers to think about. This age demographic isn't just my grandparent's generation, this is my parent's generation too. As someone living in a multigenerational family I am incredibly concerned about whether or not social security will even be around to help my Mom once she is in a position to need it.
My life was forever changed when I became Milie's caregiver. I saw how invisible our older generation can be and that is tragic. I also found out how easy it is to get involved and extend compassion to our seniors.
Get to know the seniors in your neighborhood. With seasons changing it is always good to check in to see if anyone needs help with anything. While you are saying hello just ask if they are doing ok with their meals. Let them know you can help them find a program to help them if they need it.
My grandmother passed away three years ago but the life lessons that she taught me live on: be kind, reach out, use real sugar.