Meals and Food in Older Women : Health Perceptions, Eating Habits, and Food Management

Sammanfattning: The aim was to describe and explore the food-related work and eating habits of older community-dwelling women, with Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis or stroke or without these diseases. The major focus is on health perceptions, eating habits and meal support. A theoretical framework based on cultural and health theories was adopted. A total of 91 women between 64 and 88 years were visited in their homes, a food survey was performed consisting of a 24h recall and an estimated three-day food diary was introduced. Seventy-two of the women also took part in qualitative interviews with an ethnographic approach. Approximately one week later, another 24h recall was carried out at a second visit, or for the non-disabled women by telephone. The analyses revealed that many women were influenced by the prevailing health message and tried to eat a healthy diet. It was also important to them to enjoy their preferred foods, but this gave some women a bad conscience, while others perceived their usual foods as wholesome to eat. Health promotion for older women needs to incorporate the women’s own cultural context, their perceptions of food-related health, and their wish to adhere to their usual habits. Women with disease, frailty and who had become alone reported simplified food-related work and poor eating habits. However, management of these duties was highly valued, and women strove to cook by themselves as long as possible when disability became a threat. This resulted in a trend towards less nourishing cooked meals for women with disabilities. Thus, many women with these diseases living at home need support with their meals. This has to be planned in collaboration with the woman and build on her cultural values. The help must be performed with respect for the woman’s sense of order, be given sufficient time, and acknowledge her self-determination.