As the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN) pushes its Malnutrition Awareness Week for 2018, it’s shocking to learn that almost 50 percent of seniors in the United States are currently at risk of becoming malnourished.
As the U.S. population gets older, the problem of malnourishment among seniors is poised to get even worse.
Leona Miller, 94, from Hilltop Ohio, shared her daily eating regimen with The Times-Reporter of Ohio. She normally has toast and coffee for breakfast, and then maybe soup or some chili from Wendy’s for dinner. Four days per week she gets a hot lunch delivered from LifeCare Alliance’s Meals-on-Wheels.
Like many seniors across the country, Miller rarely gets to eat out and socialize with friends because she tires quickly. Cooking for herself is also an obstacle because she can’t stay up on her feet for long periods.
The Times-Reporter listed Miller as one of about 20,000 people in five central Ohio counties who benefit from the LifeCare Alliance hot meals programs. These programs, like Meals-on-Wheels, seek to provide regular and nutritious meals to Ohio residents that are either elderly or have medical issues that make regular nutrition difficult.
Reacting to the statistics on seniors and malnourishment from agencies like ASPEN, an Ohio commission is now recommending the expansion of programs that provide seniors food and nutritional support. But this isn’t just happening in Ohio. Ohio’s Malnutrition Prevention Commission, formed in 2016, issued a report in March providing 16 recommendations aimed at senior malnutrition, creating awareness, increasing screenings and assessments, encouraging proposals from researchers and establishing more complete data.
In Philadelphia, Pew Charitable Trusts announced back in March that they would provide almost $4.5 million over a three-year period to 28 Philadelphia area organizations that work to preserve the dignity, independence, and quality of life for seniors. The goal of this money is to help agencies in Philadelphia fulfill four core objectives:
- Assist seniors in meeting their basic needs by helping them obtain available public benefits, nutritious meals, financial counseling, and housing-related legal assistance.
- Significantly reduce social isolation and symptoms of depression among the elderly.
- Maintain or increase seniors’ ability to live securely and independently in their homes by providing services such as personal care assistance, help with chores, friendly visiting, and home repairs to enhance personal and physical safety.
- Help informal caregivers, such as family members, through respite, training, and other supportive services.
“Over one-quarter of the Philadelphia region’s 621,000 seniors age 65 or older are living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, representing an income of up to $24,000 for an individual, with many facing health issues and social isolation while struggling to make ends meet,” said Frazierita Klasen, the vice president overseeing Pew’s work in Philadelphia.
Local Philadelphia Home Health Agency Comfort Keepers of Philadelphia is one of the agencies that see the issues of senior malnutrition day in and day out. Franchise owner Michele Berman agrees with the initiative. “Malnutrition Awareness,” said Berman, “is the first step in helping our clients maintain a healthy life.”
Comfort Keepers provides in-home care services specifically focused on senior nutrition to help area residents live at home where they are comfortable but still receive the nutrition they need each day.
When programs like Meals-on-Wheels run into obstacles, like in Brevard County, FL, when the County Commission decided to cut funding in 2017-2018, the senior population is hit extremely hard.
New services, new solutions, and a lot of ingenuity are needed to keep the elderly eating healthy. Comfort Keepers of Fort Myers sees their community outreach and information sharing as one of the cornerstones of their business. “Even if you’re not a client, we want to help all seniors in our area live healthy,” said Comfort Keepers Fort-Myers Marketing director Dawn Pudlin. “Which is why we’re always available to go over questions about nutrition and point anyone in the right direction of the best resources.”
One of those resources was put together by the Naples, FL, Boys and Girls Club. The Brighter Bites program works to help families in Southwest Florida get access to healthy options.
And still another option that many are finding to help seniors eat better is healthy meals delivered directly to the doorstep of seniors.
A lot of those plans, however, still require a lot of time on your feet preparing and cooking. Which is why Pennsylvania Meal Kit Delivery Service What-a-Crock Meals to Go offers one of the most unique solutions to senior nutrition: slow cooker meals.
“We think our meals are a perfect idea for seniors who want to eat healthily,” said Brieanna West, founder of What a Crock. “Our meal kits come with the least amount of effort to prepare compared to the rest of the options. You just drop it in the crockpot, and set the timer and go.”
A 2017 Meals on Wheels America report, noted that 671,333, or 26 percent, of Ohio’s 2.6 million older adults were isolated and living alone; 443,770 (17 percent) were at risk of hunger; 694,565 (27 percent) were living in or near poverty. And data from the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University of Ohio indicate that 30 percent of Ohioans will be 60 or older in 2040, compared with just fewer than 20 percent today.
Those key stats became the catalyst for the Ohio Commission’s report on senior malnutrition. The report points to poverty, loss of appetite, limited ability to chew or swallow, painful dental problems, multiple medications, cognitive issues and functional decline as reasons why seniors might become malnourished. Chronic disease, social isolation, mental-health struggles, repeated hospitalizations, and embarrassment are other factors.
A bout 70 percent of LifeCareAlliance’s Meals-on-Wheels clients must live on less than $1,200 a month and are forced to choose where to spend that money, said Chuck Gehring, the group’s president and chief executive.