Hungry and Alone: the Growing Senior Nutrition Crisis
Do you know a senior who might be suffering from hunger and malnourishment? There's a good chance you do and might not know it.
Nearly 8% of Americans 60 and older were “food insecure” in 2017, according to a recent study released by the anti-hunger group Feeding America. That’s 5.5 million seniors who don’t have consistent access to enough food for a healthy life, a number that has more than doubled since 2001. And it's expected to get much worse.
What's more, this situation isn't always caused by poverty, but by seniors not being able to feed themselves — either because they live alone and have trouble cooking or going out to shop, or don't have the close support of family and caregivers. Or because they are too proud to say anything about it.
But there is help...
"Our home-delivered meal program has a huge impact on people who receive it," says Crystal Donovan, who coordinates the Home Delivered Meal Program for the Jefferson Area Board for Aging (JABA). "A number of these people cannot cook for themselves, are on a fixed income and are homebound. Home delivered meals allow them to stay in their home with at least one healthy meal a day to help offset the possible unhealthy meals they are eating."
Donovan coordinates the delivery of both Mom's Meals and Meals on Wheels to JABA clients. Mom's Meals, a leading for-profit provider of home-delivered meals, delivers biweekly (10 meals per box) to clients in areas JABA serves — often remote rural areas in Nelson and Greene counties where Meals on Wheels isn't available. They are fresh, never-frozen meals that are put in the fridge and can be heated in the microwave. JABA covers the cost of these meals for need-based and income-eligible clients, and those who aren't eligible pay $6.99 per meal for Mom's Meals and $6 for Meals on Wheels.
"I look forward to getting my meals," says Gloria Coleman, a JABA Home Delivered Meal Program client in Louisa County. "And I like being able to choose what I want every two weeks. This means I don't have to worry about cooking three meals a day"
For many seniors like Coleman, who live alone in remote settings or who are on fixed incomes, the meal deliveries offer a sense of security and relieve stress.
These home-delivered meal programs also can help family members and caregivers. Indeed, most caregivers for seniors can tell you that shopping and preparing meals can be one of the most labor-intensive aspects of caregiving. Getting on a home-delivered meal program can be a huge stress reliever.
"If the caregiver works, it gives them peace of mind that their loved one has a healthy meal at home they can pop in the microwave," Donovan says, "and the caregiver doesn't need to worry about things like the stove being left on."
This JABA service is only for people 60 or older who are unable to prepare meals safely as a result of mental, emotional or physical incapacity; have no one else in the household who could prepare meals; and have are no available resources nearby (such as family members, church members, neighbors or community groups) to provide cooking assistance.
JABA pays for clients' Meals on Wheels food if clients meet eligibility requirements. Folks who do not meet eligibility requirements can contact Meals on Wheels and inquire about sliding-scale fees.
"Improvements in nutrition and reduced feelings of isolation are seen in almost every person we serve in this program," says Emily Daidone, JABA's manager of senior nutrition programs. "Isolation as a result of a sudden loss of partner, health problems or financial burdens can quickly diminish an older person's ability to stay in their home. A healthy meal, and connection to a friendly visitor, can really help."