March is National Nutrition Month, and while it is important for all of us to check on how well we are balancing our diet, it is even more important to know that more than six million Americans over age 60 suffer from malnutrition and hunger according to the Meals on Wheels Association of America (MOWAA). In fact, there has been a 79 percent increase in hunger among people age 50 plus over the last 10 years according to an AARP Foundation report.
As a caregiver for an older loved one, good nutrition can often get overlooked among so many other worries such as health ailments, prescriptions, paying hospital or insurance bills and other activities. If your older loved one is struggling with food costs on a fixed income, good nutrition is often the first thing to go. Several studies show that seniors are often choosing between a hot meal or paying utilities or health care costs.
Meals on Wheels president and CEO, Enid Borden, calls these older Americans “the hidden hungry.” She says, “They are literally hidden from society and because we do not see them at food banks – they are behind closed doors because of mobility issues – a nutritiously delivered meal, not just food, can mean the difference between life and death.”
The MOWAA is comprised of 5,000 local groups who deliver nutritious meals across the country – even in the hard to reach rural areas. “We deliver one million meals every day through the efforts of our 2.5 million volunteers,” says Borden. However, Meals on Wheels delivers much more than just a nutritious meal.
Feeding Three Souls: Seniors, Caregivers and Volunteers
Beyond the benefits to your older loved one of a home-delivered, nutritious meal, services such as Meals on Wheels bring socialization as well. One of the biggest concerns caregivers may have about their older loved one is isolation, particularly those loved ones living alone at home because they recently lost a spouse or partner. When an older person does not have someone to talk to, does not attend church or synagogue or is not seeing friends regularly, this can lead to isolation and ultimately depression and other health issues.
Seeing a young volunteer regularly who delivers meals and checks in on seniors can have positive impact for both generations. The senior gets to look forward to a visit. The young volunteer gains newfound respect for the vulnerabilities of aging and feels uplifted in the gifts they bring. Ultimately, you, the caregiver, gain peace of mind not only that your loved one has a regular nutritious meal but also that they are having interaction and conversation to keep their spirits up. This is particularly important for the 7-8 million caregivers who may live long-distance from their loved one – sometimes hours or even a plane ride away.
Caroline Sorensen, a high school junior in New York who volunteers with Meals on Wheels, recently told me that “I love knowing that I made someone’s day easier and happier.” She has been a teen volunteer for Meals on Wheels through her school for three years and she has a favorite delivery recipient. “Doris always comments on my hair, it is long and silky and we talk about the latest in hair fashion,” says Caroline. “She laughs that her hair is not quite that pretty anymore – but instead of making her sad it’s a fun conversation we have every time I see her. And, she always wants to make me tea so we sit for a few minutes and talk – I always feel good after I leave her.”
Borden believes that meal delivery is nourishment for the soul – for the recipient and the volunteer. And, caregivers benefit from the peace of mind that their loved one has food and friendship.
While you have to qualify for Meals on Wheels services (typically those over age 60 who are homebound), there are shipped meal delivery services that can also help caregivers of anyone who is having trouble making their own meals or getting to the grocery store. The good news is that there is a variety of meal delivery services – both free and paid – that caregivers can use to ensure their loved one is getting the proper nutrition and eating healthy for their age.
- Free or government subsidized options:
- Meals on Wheels Association of America – check here to see if you quality and for local delivery services
- BenefitsCheckUp® – this service offered by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) will let you see if your loved one qualifies for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help pay for nutritious food.
- Eldercare Locator – operated by the U.S. Administration on Aging – this site will help you find local resources for meal delivery in your loved one’s city (1-800-677-1116)
- Paid delivery services
- Mom’s Meals – this family-owned business delivers great tasting, high quality, fresh and nutritious meals throughout the United States. Everything is shipped fresh in a patent pending package and you can specify food for diabetics, gluten-free, vegetarian, low carb or hearty healthy meals. Average cost per meal is $5.99 plus shipping and handling. Mom’s Meals is dedicated to the senior nutrition and meal delivery market and currently works with numerous Area Agencies on Aging and providers across the United States as an approved home delivered meal provider (you can use a Medicaid waiver for this service).
- Dinewise – gourmet food meals ordered online. The home-delivered frozen meals are offered as part of a package where you choose several meals at the same time with average meal cost between $13 – $17 plus shipping and handling. Customers can order for their older loved one and for themselves or for entire family meals.
Sign Me Up!
Caregivers can get help with meal delivery – whether from an organization like Meals on Wheels or from your own circle of friends. If you want to find volunteer help or you want to volunteer, here are three great ways to get involved:
- Meals on Wheels – with so many seniors suffering from hunger, there are few causes that are better for needed donations and volunteers. And, it is a great way to teach your children about aging in America – with 78 million Baby Boomers getting older every day – we will have more parents to care for than children over the next 20 years and the burden will fall to our younger generations. Think about the cost of eating out for one lunch – donate that amount to MOWAA instead.
- Lotsa Helping Hands – create a private, online community and invite friends, family and others to volunteer to help. You put information into a simple calendar on when you need meals to be delivered with any dietary details and people in your community sign up to help you, the caregiver. It can be a meal for your family while you visit mom in a nursing home or a home-delivered meal for dad while you are at work and juggling all your other responsibilities.
- Drive to End Hunger – an initiative by the AARP Foundation to address hunger among America’s seniors. To date, more than 5.8 million meals have been delivered and $14.9 million raised for Feeding America food banks around the country due to this effort.
Do you know your older loved one’s nutritional needs and issues? Check our Me Time Monday tip on Senior Nutrition and learn more about the nutritional needs for your loved one and for you at these online resources:
www.nutrition.gov — learn more about healthy eating, food shopping, assistance programs, and nutrition-related health subjects
www.healthfinder.gov — learn how to follow a healthier lifestyle
www.choosemyplate.gov — USDA Food Guide
www.foodsafety.gov — learn more about how to cook and eat safely