One in ten seniors in America is at risk for hunger. And the senior hunger problem is only getting worse – the number of adults over age 50 who are at risk has increased 79% since 2001. Hunger at any age is a serious concern, but for seniors, a lack of nutritious food can have considerable impacts on health and independence.
Research conducted at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Institute for Aging Research shows that seniors who consume higher levels of dietary protein are less likely to suffer hip fractures than seniors whose dietary intake is less. Other studies have shown that seniors at risk for being hungry are less likely to be in excellent or very good health, and more likely to be diabetic, suffer from depression, or have at least one activity of daily living limitation – such as bathing, dressing, or using the bathroom.
As you might expect, poverty is one big reason why seniors go hungry. A report earlier this year by UMass Boston and Wider Opportunities for Women showed that seniors in Massachusetts face the largest gap in the country between income and cost of living. The median income of retired Massachusetts seniors is just under $17,000, but basic living expenses are estimated at about $27,000 per year – a $10,000 shortfall. Healthy, lean proteins like chicken and fish are expensive for a senior living on a fixed income.
But money is only part of the problem. As we age, tasks like grocery shopping and cooking meals can become increasingly difficult. This can create a dangerous downward spiral of poorer health and decreased independence.
At Hebrew SeniorLife, we’re focused on ways to keep seniors of all incomes healthy and independent. Our supportive housing communities in Brookline, Randolph, and Revere offer affordable meal plans so low-income residents can access a hot, nutritious meal right in their own building. And these communal meals provide a social experience that helps prevent isolation and loneliness. Each year, we serve nearly 200,000 meals to the residents of these three communities.
For our most frail residents, having access to a hot prepared meal might mean the difference between living independently and moving to a nursing home or assisted living facility. And for seniors of all abilities, proper nutrition is a key part of staying active and healthy.