Food Safety Education Necessary for Older Adults
With fading senses of sight and smell, seniors face a higher risk of foodborne illness. New research encourages better training for healthcare workers, so they can educate the elderly on food safety and prevent such infections.
By Jaimie Dalessio Clayton
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FRIDAY, August 17, 2012— Fear of falling, a heart attack, a stroke — those might top the list of health concerns for seniors who live alone and the people who care for them. But foodborne illness, a common problem among the elderly, merits higher placement on that list, according to researchers from RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, and Tennessee State University in Nashville.
Most of us rely on our senses to red flag raw or undercooked food. If something looks or smells bad, we throw it away. We check expiration dates on product labels. We also remember to keep things refrigerated when necessary. But as we age, some of those senses and instincts dull. Poor eyesight, dementia, and reduced sense of smell all contribute to the high risk of foodborne illness for seniors. Additionally, an older adult’s stomach might already be more sensitive, due to firming of the digestive tract.
The researchers, led by Kelly Wohlgenant, a policy analyst at RTI International, set out to understand how caregivers and healthcare providers approach the prevention of foodborne illness in adults over age 60. They talked to a mix of physicians, nurses, other healthcare professionals, and relatives over a three-month period in 2010.
Their findings, published in the journalEducational Gerontology, showed that many of the survey participants knew that poor food safety habits cause foodborne illness, but knowledge of specific recommended practices was less consistent among the group. Many healthcare professionals themselves had not received training on preventing foodborne illness in the kitchen.
In addition to properly handling, storing, and cooking food, dietary recommendations for seniors include avoiding raw or undercooked seafood, foods that contain raw eggs, and soft cheeses like feta and brie, according to RTI International.
"This study highlights a need to integrate food safety education into preventive healthcare for older adults," Wohlgenant says in a release from RTI International.
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