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Published: Tuesday 8 December 2015 at 3am PST

Homebound seniors who have home-delivered meals report significantly less loneliness than those who do not, according to a study published in Journals of Gerontology, Series B.
Senior man receives home delivered meal from female visitor
There was a significant reduction in self-reported feelings of loneliness among homebound seniors who had home-delivered meals, compared with those who did not.
Image credit: Michael Cohea/Brown University

The pressure to cut costs brings with it the possibility of overlooking the less tangible benefits when seeking alternative models in the provision of a public service.

Nutrition service providers are no exception, and the new study – conducted as a randomized, controlled trial – shows that home-delivered meals do more than nourish physical well-being; they also have a positive emotional effect in the lives of older people who are stuck at home.

It appears that the regular knock on the door, with the opportunity to exchange some friendly words with the person delivering the meal, goes a long way to reducing feelings of loneliness in older people in need.

Lead author Kali Thomas, assistant professor (research) of health services, policy and practice at Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, RI, says:

“This continues to build the body of evidence that home-delivered meals provide more than nutrition and food security.”

Prof. Thomas, a former volunteer for Meals on Wheels, believes the study is one of only a few that has rigorously examined the long-presumed psychological benefits of home-delivered meal service. It is certainly the first randomized, controlled trial to measure the effect on loneliness, she notes.

Many participants socially isolated

The trial participants were 626 older adults from eight American cities who were on waiting lists to receive Meals on Wheels. They were randomly assigned to three groups.

In one group, the participants received a daily fresh meal, in another they received a weekly delivery of frozen meals, and in the third group they remained on the waiting list – this was the control group.

The trial ran for 15 weeks. All participants were interviewed at the start and end of the period.

 

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