Faced with financial challenges, physical limitations or isolation, they face a dilemma—whether to skip meals or choose cheaper, less nutritious meals.
Linda is a 72-year-old widow with low income living in Thousand Oaks. She developed cancer last year and frequently returns to the hospital for treatment.
Each time Linda comes home from treatment she is weak and frail—too weak to drive or cook for herself. Linda doesn’t have family nearby, and her limited income doesn’t allow her to hire someone to shop and prepare meals.
She is not alone. Sixteen percent of seniors in our community lack access to the right foods. This phenomenon is called food insecurity.
The United States has seen a 70 percent increase in food insecurity since 2005, and it is predicted we will see another 70 percent increase by 2025.
Food insecurity is the tip of the iceberg. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 69 percent of seniors over the age of 65 are at risk for malnourishment and 50 percent of those have yet to be identified.
How could we be unaware that seniors in our community are malnourished?
In some cases seniors may not be aware of the changes affecting their food intake. Taste buds decline with age, dental problems may get in the way, and medications may alter appetites. In addition, there is a stigma associated with reaching out when needing help.
Tori Cohen, director of food and nutrition services at Los Robles Hospital and a registered dietician, suggests Meals on Wheels to frail seniors who are being discharged from the hospital and need short or long-term help with getting the proper nutrition.
“Sometimes patients say, ‘I can’t afford it,’” Cohen said, “and I tell them it’s affordable, tasty and nutritious. The meals delivered to the home will assist them with getting proper nutrients to decrease further deterioration and possible weight loss.”
Programs like Meals on Wheels may help prevent further problems.
Studies have shown that food insecure seniors are twice as likely to be diabetic and experience repeat hospitalizations. They are five times more likely to suffer depression and are twice as likely to not be able to perform at least one activity of daily living.
One way to tell if you are at risk for malnutrition is to take the mini nutritional self-assessment. It is a simple tool for adults 65 years of age and older that helps them figure out if they’re getting the nutrition they need. The assessment can be found at www.nestle-nutrition.com/pdf/SelfMNAFinal0326.pdf.
Meals on Wheels programs are a critical resource for preventing malnourishment and food insecurity in seniors.
Senior Concerns administers the program for Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park. It serves more than 50,000 freshly prepared, nutritionally balanced meals 364 days a year. Each day, one hot and one cold meal are delivered by a volunteer, along with friendship and a smile, right to a senior’s door.
On Sun., June 3, 1,500 runners and walkers will test their stamina in the 19th annual Senior Concerns Love Run to help run senior hunger out of the Conejo Valley.
The 5K, 10K and one-mile fun walk offer something for everyone.
For avid runners, the Love Run is a USATF-certified chip-timed race. Medals will be awarded for the top three male and female finalists in each age group.
For seniors, local columnist and senior advocate Betty Berry will lead the Betty Berry Brigade, inviting all seniors to join her in the one-mile walk to end senior hunger in our community.
To sign up for the Love Run, go to www.seniorconcerns.org.
To inquire about Meals on Wheels for yourself or a loved one, call one of the following numbers: Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park, (805) 496-2009; Westlake Village, (805) 341-4622; or Camarillo, (805) 388-1952, ext. 145.