One of the side-effects of the pandemic has been the toll it has taken on the nutritional needs of seniors. Many older adults were – and continue to be – justifiably leery about venturing out, and visits from friends and adult children are still limited. That has led many seniors to put their need for healthy, flavorful meals on the back burner while they settle for what they have at home or have access to.
As Denise Andreas, SWCAA’s Assistant Grants Manager and Nutrition Educator for the Title III Meals on Wheels program, explains, there is assistance available for folks to get nutritious meals delivered directly to their homes. In Connecticut, seniors are eligible for assistance through Meals on Wheels if they are 60 years of age or older, homebound or isolated, and qualify for home delivered meals as determined by an assessment. There is no income test for assistance, although services are targeted to those with lower incomes.
Referrals to Andreas come from a myriad of sources. As she notes: “Clients get referred to us by doctors, hospital, nurses, occupational and rehabilitation specialists, concerned neighbors, their adult children, friends, and the clients themselves can make a referral to Meals on Wheels.”
Once she received a referral, Andreas calls the client (in-home visits used to be performed before COVID) and goes through an 11 question survey for each meal recipient. These are simple yes and no questions, but a “yes” allows Andreas to explore additional needs. “For example, one question is: ‘I have an illness or a condition that has changed the way I eat, the amount I eat, or the foods I eat.’ A lot of people at first respond with a ‘no’ and then might mention in passing that they have a condition like diabetes, so I investigate further.” This assessment allows Andreas to give more accurate information on clients’ nutritional needs to the Meals on Wheels providers, which are CW Resources in the greater Bridgeport area and Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, in the Greater Norwalk / Stamford area.
Both organizations deliver one hot and one cold meal to clients, but they are also delivering a level of peace of mind. “Meals on Wheels is also a wellness check,” Andreas notes. “The drivers are checking in on individuals and making sure they are okay, making sure they are eating, making sure they are getting all the services that they need.”
A variety of factors can influence how well older adults can prepare their own meals. Many clients no longer drive, so getting to the grocery store can be challenging. If they have vision issues, limited mobility or a condition like arthritis, meal prep and cooking can become a challenge.
Andreas describes a home visit she conducted before the pandemic with a lovely 80-plus-year-old woman who had macular degeneration. When Andreas asked how she knew how to cycle meals so that she wasn’t eating food that had expired, she answered that she didn’t. When she dug deeper to ask how the woman was reheating her meals, she told Andreas that she wasn’t using her microwave, because she couldn’t see the buttons. That meant she was using her gas stovetop to warm up meals, which was doubly dangerous given her vision problems and the fact that she had dementia. In addition to ensuring that the client now receives healthy meals delivered to her, Andreas was able to consult with her colleagues and pull in other services the woman needed. The result is that she is now living in a much safer and healthier environment.
For seniors who can get out on their own or those who have access to transportation, access to prepared meals should be loosening up as local senior centers develop plans to re-open by early summer. The senior centers are eager to welcome back their members and to provide opportunities for friendship and