This blog was updated in September 2023
Meals on Wheels is a program that provides homebound seniors with nutritious and balanced meals delivered right to their doorsteps. Donations and volunteers fuel this program which helps seniors maintain a good quality of life while staying in their homes. Meals on Wheels helps those in our community who are 60 or over and living alone or with a co-dependent spouse.
These seniors often have trouble grocery shopping or preparing meals due to mobility issues, chronic illness, or lack of money. They may be forced to choose between buying food, medication, or paying bills when money is an issue. These factors put them at risk for malnutrition or food insecurity. In 2021, 7.1% of seniors in the United States (78 million total), or 5.5 million people, experienced food insecurity.
Meals on Wheels confronts these issues head-on and ensures that vulnerable seniors don’t go hungry. Each year, Meals on Wheels delivers 247 million meals to 2.8 million seniors. Through a network of dedicated people, they work to create a community that seniors can fall back on, not just for meals but in all aspects of their lives. This meal delivery program is not just about food. The delivery of a nutritionally balanced meal can change a senior’s life.
It can also provide a sense of security and peace of mind. The program also supplies volunteers with the opportunity to give seniors a sense of belonging and companionship. Meal delivery can also help reduce social isolation, loneliness, and depression, which are all too common among seniors. Social isolation, loneliness, and depression are widespread, with some countries reporting that up to one in three older people feel lonely.
These meals improve a senior’s overall nutrition, which can significantly affect their physical health. In addition, when meals are delivered, the driver performs a wellness check, which provides social interaction. The wellness checks also provide a crucial safety net for seniors at risk of falls or accidental overdose on medication. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one-third of all seniors live alone, which equals close to 14 million seniors aging alone. Everyone at Meals on Wheels works hard to improve the quality of life for seniors in need.
Improved Nutritional Status
Meals on Wheel delivers healthy meals to seniors who may not otherwise have access to healthy food. These meals are designed to provide seniors with the daily recommended nutrient intake values by including essential vitamins and minerals. These include vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. In addition, the target values for fats, sodium, and fiber are also taken into account. Nutritionists and dietitians develop these balanced meals, so you can be sure they are designed to support the unique nutritional needs of seniors.
Each meal generally includes a protein, vegetables, a bread or grain, low-fat milk or a milk alternative, and a dessert. The menu is cycled every eight weeks to ensure variety and allow for seasonal changes. All meals are designed to be low in sodium. Nutrition is crucial to a senior’s overall health. As people age, their nutritional needs change. Seniors generally have lower calorie needs but require more nutrients. It has been estimated that 29% to 61% of elderly people have difficulty meeting their nutritional needs. Seniors are at significant risk for new or worsening health problems, but good nutrition has been shown to slow or prevent many chronic conditions.
Senior food insecurity is another problem that Meals on Wheel addresses. Many seniors do not have their nutritional needs met in their daily meals or do not eat enough food. The World Health Organization and Feeding America are two additional organizations that are also working to bring awareness to food insecurity and eliminate it.
Meals on Wheels does its part to help in the battle against food insecurity by ensuring that vulnerable seniors have daily meals available to them that are nutritionally balanced. Having regularly delivered meals means that seniors do not have to stress about grocery shopping, cooking, or money to buy food. Instead, they can put their money toward medications, bills, or other necessities. The USDA reports that more than 34 million people in the United States, including 9 million children, are food insecure. So the problem isn’t just for seniors, it’s a national and global epidemic that we are facing and we need to make more people aware.
Increased Social Interaction
When delivery drivers reach each stop, they do more than deliver food. They also perform a wellness check. In these check-ins, they make a point to speak with each resident as they drop off their food and see how things are going. These socially engaging check-ins allow delivery drivers to assess each resident’s well-being, providing important social interaction. Many seniors in our community experience isolation because of chronic illness, mobility problems, or even financial hardships. In fact, here are the most common reasons for seniors to experience isolation are:
- Living alone.
- Limited finances.
- Impaired mobility.
- No family close
- Never having married.
- Divorced, separated, or widowed.
We do not want a single member of our Contra Costa community to feel as if they are doomed to live this way. We want to make sure that everyone has the resources and support they need to feel supported and empowered. That’s why we offer programs to help these individuals find new connections and find a sense of community. We want them to know that they are not alone.
Social isolation is a huge concern for seniors and can have serious consequences. According to a study, 34% of adults aged 50-80 reported feeling isolated from others in the past year. A lack of social interaction for seniors can lead to a whole host of problems for their mental and physical health. For example, studies have shown that social isolation has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, cognitive decline, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, and more. But frequent interactions with family members and friends can help. These studies show that daily social interaction can help delay the damage done by dementia.
The benefits of social interaction for seniors are enormous. Visiting with friends frequently can help seniors get more physical activity and give them a sense of purpose by helping them feel connected to a community. Meals on Wheels delivery drivers help provide reliable social contact for the seniors on their route so that they will always feel like part of a community.
As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said: “The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.”
This sentiment holds true for seniors, who benefit from social contact and feelings of connection to others. Regular visits from friends and family, in addition to Meals on Wheels delivery drivers, can help seniors stay connected and feel more supported.
Enhanced Safety and Security
These wellness checks have another essential purpose, though. They are integral to the safety and security of the seniors on our routes. Each delivery driver will check in with the resident to ensure everything is going okay. Everyone at Meals on Wheels is part of a network that takes the safety of seniors seriously. If a driver thinks something is wrong or the senior needs help, they will relay the message to the appropriate person and ensure no one is left without help.
There are many risks to safety for seniors living alone.
As people get older, they tend to lose flexibility and balance, their bones become more brittle, and they lose muscle mass. For many seniors, a fall will require hospitalization. Fall risk is one of the most significant determining factors for whether a senior can safely live independently. If there is no safety net, a senior may fall and be unable to call for help or get up independently.
Accidental overdoses are another common problem. When seniors have many medications to take, it’s easy to mix them up, take too much of one, or forget a dose. This can lead to life-threatening emergencies. Seniors with memory problems are especially at risk.
Declining health is another unfortunate problem because, often, the decline is so slow that seniors may not notice it on their own. Brain fog makes this issue especially hard to detect. Without another person to notice and point out slow changes to health, these changes may go unnoticed for longer than they should. And a delay in treating new or worsening conditions can have dire consequences.
Malnutrition in seniors is an issue that Meals on Wheels works to address through their meal delivery program, but also using wellness checks. Together, these two systems ensure that each senior gets the nutritious food they need and that there is additional help when necessary. Malnutrition is common in seniors who may not have access to healthy meals or have to ration their food due to financial issues.
Mental health problems like depression and anxiety can stem from isolation. Socially isolated seniors can feel cut off from their community and may also become very fearful of falling or getting hurt when no one is around to help. Wellness checks offer some companionship, which can help with depression and anxiety. The delivery drivers can also report concerns to the appropriate person at Meals on Wheels so that seniors can get the help they need.
Improved Quality of Life
As you can see, Meals on Wheels does more than just deliver meals. They help seniors get quality nutrition in their diets, offer increased social interactions for isolated seniors, and provide enhanced safety and security. All of these lead to a higher quality of life for these seniors. Simply put, having a good quality of life means that a person is happy with where their life is and where it’s going.
Feeling connected to a community on top of improved nutrition and a feeling of safety can do wonders for a senior’s mental and physical health. This lets seniors feel safe in their homes and helps them maintain their health-related quality of life for as long as possible. The better quality of life for the seniors, the more vibrant emotional health they will have!
Meals on Wheels of Contra Costa
Meals on Wheels gives seniors the tools to care for themselves better while offering the entire community’s support. A resident who receives meals is more than just another person on a delivery route. They are part of a network of employees and volunteers who care deeply and want to help.
If you want to help the seniors in your area, consider donating or volunteering. There are many ways to give back to your community by caring for some of the most vulnerable members.