According to a new AARP survey of adults, 3 out of 4 adults age 50 and older want to stay in their homes and communities as they age. Independence is important. They want to protect it, which is an understandable desire. Sometimes, however, the fear of relying on others gets to the point of putting one’s personal health status in jeopardy by choosing other necessities over good nutrition.
One such example is Marshall, who was suffering from spinal stenosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a long-term inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. Symptoms include breathing difficulty, cough, mucus production and wheezing. It's typically caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases, most often from cigarette smoke. Individuals with COPD have an increased risk of developing heart disease, lung disease and a variety of other conditions.
Due to Marshall’s shortness of breath, he could barely make it from the house to his mailbox; therefore, it was extremely taxing to do tasks that required he walk long distances. Grocery shopping was becoming one of those difficult tasks. At times, even standing in the kitchen to prepare a well-balanced meal often exhausted him. Dressing and bathing began to take a very long time to complete and some days he chose to sleep in his clothes and wear them again for the next day or two. In addition, Marshall did not live close to town and has a long drive to reach basic services. Eating healthy started to be his last priority.
There are some common issues that can make it harder for older adults to make smart nutrition choices. Things like getting tired when cooking, food tasting different, problems chewing or swallowing or painful teeth, food and medicine interactions, feeling sad and not wanting to eat alone and problems absorbing enough calories. Not eating enough or eating too much can affect weight, which adds to frailty.
Marshall was reluctant to ask for any help. His diet became based more on convenience than on food types that could help keep him healthy and therefore more independent. Finally, a concerned neighbor who saw his struggles suggested he contact the Meals on Wheels program run by Volunteers of America and Senior CommUnity Meals.
Facing a decision between leaving his home for long term care or changing some habits, Marshall called Senior CommUnity Meals and was assessed. The program determined he qualified to receive home delivered meals due to his rural home location and his need for assistance with activities of daily living. Activities of daily living include bathing, dressing, eating, and toileting. A large majority of home-delivered meal recipients also need assistance with one or instrumental activities of daily living i.e. shopping, housework and mobility.
After receiving home delivered meals for a month, Marshall began to feel better about his overall life and ability to remain living in his own home. He looked forward to the personal interaction with the volunteer meals driver. He no longer needed to worry about how he was going to prepare a meal and his anxiety decreased. He also gained a few pounds from eating a variety of nutritious foods. His outlook improved and he had more energy to take care of himself. After a year on the program, Marshall is a success story - he is still living at home and reports his outlook on life is brighter.
Erin Berge is the regional marketing director for Volunteers of America, who provides a network of health care programs and services in Montrose and Delta counties (voaseniorliving.org or 1-844-862-4968).