Social isolation is common among many U.S. seniors, particularly during the holidays. But, home-delivered meals can significantly reduce their feelings of loneliness, new research finds.
The study involved more than 600 people in eight U.S. cities who were on waiting lists for Meals on Wheels, a program that delivers food to homebound seniors. They were randomly selected to have daily fresh meal delivery to their home, weekly frozen meal delivery or to remain on the waiting list.
At the start of the study, seniors in all three groups had similar levels of loneliness. After 15 weeks, loneliness levels remained the same among those on the waiting list, but had fallen among those who received fresh or frozen meal deliveries at home.
Also, seniors with daily meal delivery were three times more likely than weekly recipients to indicate that home-delivered meal service helped them feel less lonely, the researchers reported.
“This continues to build the body of evidence that home-delivered meals provide more than nutrition and food security,” said lead author Kali Thomas, assistant professor (research) of health services, policy and practice at Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, R.I.
She hopes the findings will assist policymakers as they make decisions about programs that provide services to the elderly in their homes.
“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 in a university news release.
Many of the study participants were socially isolated. More than half lived alone, 14 percent said they had no one to call on for help, 20 percent said they were in touch with family and friends less than once or twice a month, and only 25 percent said they took part in group activities.
“The number of people who reported they had no one to call on for help is a cause for concern,” Thomas said.
The study was published online recently in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about the benefits of social interaction.