Senior Nutrition – Underfunded Retirement Community Programs Undermine Your Parents Health

If you paid $5,000 a month last month for your parent to live in a very nice, upscale retirement community, would you be shocked to learn that only 3.5 % of this money funds the monthly nutritional wellness of your aging parent?Your 85 year old parent may be nourished today in a community boasting a “fine dining program”, for $2.40 per meal: this was my budget per resident in an upscale senior independent living community in La Jolla, California in 2007.Retirement community budgets are drafted at the corporate level: that means that a decision is made to give each community’s dining service director a fixed yearly budget from which to feed the resident’s of a community: as an outsider to senior living, most people would guess that senior nutritional standards would drive the dollars budgeted for daily meal services. That is not always the case.While some corporations have a full time registered dietician on staff: other corporations do not. My last employer had an accountant, not a nutritionist, deciding the dollars necessary to provide high quality nutritional food to community residents. Furthermore the corporate leadership was more concerned with feeding the community residents food that was inexpensive to buy, and convenient to produce; rather than high quality whole foods that were nutritional. The nutritional wellness of your cherished parent is not the first priority of these very profitable corporations, though from an ethical perspective it should be.You would think that with the current explosion in nutritional knowledge that senior retirement corporations would be taking the lead in senior wellness programming, and that the food service programs would be state of the art. There is consensus amongst nutritional professionals, and researchers that , inflammation causes aging, and more critically, contributes to the rate of aging.I have visited many dietary programs , both owned by my corporation, and by other corporations with several property holdings in California, and nationwide. Most of the food, in my opinion, was aesthetically, and nutritionally ghastly. Bad food is the rule, not the exception.As if that is not bad enough, poor nutrition for seniors can be deadly. For anyone, as a matter of fact.Most chefs at these communities are not certified, or formally educated Executive Chefs, and have little or no background in nutrition, let alone nutrition specific to the needs of seniors. These individuals are in these positions primarily because they agree to stay within the budgetary guidelines of their corporations; and because they are inexpensive labor. They are not in these positions because of their credentials or nutritional wisdom: yet they are charged with the responsibility of keeping your parents healthy. Frightening. Really frightening.Some Chefs and Dietary Directors do have great resumes, and the necessary experience: but rarely are they in complete control of the dietary programming: there is usually a bean counter driving the important decision making: like how much money per resident actually goes toward resident meals.Keep in mind, that yearly, there are market fluctuations; price increases that are unexpected; last year it was dairy that shot up 14% unpredictably: never think that the corporation absorbs these increases, and merely changes their budgeting mid-year. Your parent is stuck with what the budget year money can buy; no matter what happens in the marketplace. There have been years when meat prices climbed, fish prices doubled: and the smaller the dollars per resident meal, the lower the quality of product that your parent will actually receive.Do your homework when you tour communities: ask about specifics: here are some key questions to ask:1. What did your company budget for resident meals per day?2. How many meals are included each day?3. What proportion of this money is spent on fresh fish ? fresh produce?4. Do you cook from scratch? what items do you cook from scratch?5. What is the educational background in nutrition of your Chef? Dietary Director?6. Do you purchase commercially prepared foods?7. Do you make dietary adjustments to your regular menu? what kind?If the marketing directors,chefs, dietary directors cannot answer these questions to your satisfaction, just walk away: your parent will never be happy. Explore other smaller communities with a greater nutritional focus: remember, you are what you eat. And for a senior, what they eat, or can’t have access to eating, could kill them.

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