Risks rise when joy of eating dies

Putting joy back on the menu

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DINNER DATE: Eating just one shared meal a week can make a big difference to an older person's health and wellbeing.

DINNER DATE: Eating just one shared meal a week can make a big difference to an older person's health and wellbeing.

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Just one shared meal a week can make a huge difference to an older person's wellbeing.

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THE joy of eating cannot be underestimated, especially as people age.

When people no longer experience pleasure from eating, it can lead to serious health complications, yet the problem can be overcome with training and social strategies.

Flinders University is among many global institutions conducting studies into "altered eating" - a term applied to the inability to enjoy food and eat well because of ageing, neurological conditions and malignancies.

It has a significant impact on quality and enjoyment of life, outcomes of disease and treatments and social isolation, and has an economic impact on the healthcare system.

"Sensory systems are not fixed and can be improved with training," said UK researcher Dr Duika Burges Watson, who visited Flinders University in November and also leads the Altered Eating Research Network.

"Putting joy back on the menu is something I feel passionate about."

Dr Burges Watson's research ties in with continuing research being conducted at Flinders by Professor John Coveney on "social eating", eating in company.

"We have been doing research on the role of social eating in preventing social isolation and loneliness," Professor Coveney said.

"Our work has shown that even one shared meal each week can mitigate the likelihood of loneliness and associated health problems.

"Obviously if people are not enjoying food because of altered taste and flavour, then they are at risk of not prioritising eating and nourishment."

Dr Burges Watson's research into social eating considers food "from source to senses" and examines how our experience of food may be altered.

Working with BBC award-winning cook Sam Storey, she leads flavour masterclasses for the general public and those with altered eating difficulties.

She also introduces "food play" as a research method for working with people for whom food has lost its joy.

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