Senior food insecurity connected to isolation, program barriers in rural areas

  • Date: 11/16/2020

As food insecurity rises among older adults in the United States, a new study from Indiana University is uncovering factors that prevent older residents from accessing the food they need.

Seniors who participated in the discussions and survey reported that living alone decreases their motivation to prepare balanced meals and reduced joy from eating. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated those feelings, the survey found, significantly increasing seniors’ feelings of loneliness, making them feel left out and isolated.

While 23 percent of those surveyed felt “left out” often or sometimes before the pandemic, 40 percent felt so after it began. Similarly, 7 percent felt “isolated” often or sometimes before the pandemic, but 61 percent felt so after the pandemic started. And while 25 percent felt they “lacked companionship” often or sometimes before the pandemic, 42 percent felt so after.

“Congregate meals, like those offered at senior centers or churches, where people can share a meal and engage socially with others, are hugely appreciated by the seniors we interviewed,” said project partner Phil Stafford of Commons Planning Inc. “However, many communities have seen these meals dwindle, and even regular meal services like Meals on Wheels have reduced deliveries to frozen meal packs twice a month in some areas.”

Transportation is another major barrier to food access for older rural residents who no longer drive. Public buses are few or non-existent, rural transit is limited, and Medicaid cab services will provide rides only to a medical appointment for those who qualify. Seniors rely on family members, neighbors and friends for rides, but they sometimes cannot afford what a driver might ask them to chip in. A ride-share network could offer access and cost-effective opportunities for seniors, the researchers suggest.

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