For Homebound, Delivered Meals Show Stark Impact

What’s the best way to get to the heart? Through the stomach, according to new research that shows delivering meals to homebound seniors can have a positive impact on feelings of loneliness.

Food is an important issue for homebound seniors and getting adequate nutrition can be a challenge. Up to 24% of low-income seniors were food insecure in 2013. Home health care workers can help provide meal preparation, but not all agencies provide this service and not all seniors can pay for it.

A randomized, controlled trial that provided delivered meals to seniors revealed that receiving adequate nutrition at home resulted in more than just physical benefits. Delivered meals made seniors feel less lonely compared to those who did not receive meals or received them less frequently.

“This continues to build the body of evidence that home-delivered meals provide more than nutrition and food security,” Kali Thomas, study lead author, assistant professor (research) of health services, policy and practice in the Brown University School of Public Health and a researcher at the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said.

More than 600 seniors who were on Meals on Wheels waiting lists participated in the study across eight cities. Three groups of seniors received meals either daily or weekly, or were left on the waiting list as a control group.

At the end of the 15-week trial, researchers found that meal delivery significantly reduced self-reported feelings of loneliness compared to those not receiving delivery. Those who received meals daily were three times more likely than weekly recipients to say the service helped them feel less lonely.

The impact of the study is an important finding as health systems continue to consolidate and focus on keeping seniors healthy in their homes as long as possible.

“In a time when resources are being further constrained and demand is increasing, it is important that we have evidence that guides decision-making in terms of what services to provide and how best to provide them,” Thomas said.

The study was funded by a grant from the AARP Foundation and was sponsored by Meals on Wheels America. The peer reviewed study was published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series B.

Written by Amy Baxter