Image Credit Michael Cohea:Brown University
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Home-Delivered Meals Reduce Loneliness

When Congress passed the Older Americans Act in 1965 to support elderly people who were struggling — often alone — to continue to live at home, a major plank of the legislation provided for home delivery of meals to ensure their adequate nutrition. In the midst of the holiday season 2015, a study done at Brown University and published online on December 7th in the Journals of Gerontology: Series B confirms another benefit of visitors regularly knocking on the doors of seniors in need: a significant reduction in their feelings of loneliness.

A release from the university quotes study lead author Kali Thomas, 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. As saying, “This continues to build the body of evidence that home-delivered meals provide more than nutrition and food security,” said

The release explain that in order to study whether the program affects loneliness, Thomas analyzed data from a randomized, controlled trial. More than 600 study participants in eight cities who were on Meals on Wheels waiting lists were either given access to daily fresh meal delivery, weekly frozen meal delivery, or simply remained on the waiting list as a control group.

Funding for the research, including the expanded availability of meal deliveries, came from a grant from the AARP Foundation. The study was sponsored by Meals on Wheels America, which released some of the results earlier this year. Now, however, they have been peer-reviewed and published in the scientific record.

The study staff interviewed seniors in all three groups (daily delivery, weekly delivery or continued waiting) at the beginning of the 15-week study and again at the end so they could measure how the seniors’ responses changed. The researchers assessed feelings of loneliness at both times with two measures: a standard three-question scale and a separate single question: “Do services received from the home-delivered meals program help you feel less lonely?”

Measures of loneliness

At the beginning of the study there were no statistically significant differences among the three study groups in their degree of loneliness by either measure. On the loneliness scale from zero to nine with higher scores indicating greater loneliness, members of each group on average scored between three and four. But other study data revealed that many of the participants were socially isolated. More than half lived alone, 14 percent reported having no one to call on for help, 25 percent reported participating group activities, and 20 percent had contact with friends and family less than once or twice a month.

“The number of people who reported they had no one to call on for help is a cause for concern,” said Thomas, a former Meals on Wheels delivery volunteer.