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The Loneliness Factor

The elderly, when home alone, face significant socialization challenges, particularly when it comes to lack of shared mealtime experiences.
The elderly, when home alone, face significant socialization challenges, particularly when it comes to lack of shared mealtime experiences.

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June 21, 2011

Loneliness -- it's one of the most serious obstacles to good nutrition that your senior loved one could face. The elderly, when home alone, face significant socialization challenges, particularly when it comes to lack of shared mealtime experiences.

"Who likes to eat alone? Nobody," says Sandy Markwood, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) – who served as expert source for the Home Instead Senior Care® network's Craving CompanionshipSM program. "Meals are not just a matter of sustenance, but a social outlet," said Markwood, whose members coordinate the popular home-delivered meals program, also known as "Meals On Wheels®."

"It's how we come together as a family or a community. When you're isolated from that opportunity it's indicative of bigger challenges that person could be facing."

The far-reaching impact of loneliness prompted the Home Instead Senior Care network to conduct a first-of-its-kind study* to measure mealtime routines, challenges and preferences of seniors age 75-plus who live by themselves in their own homes or apartments.

This comprehensive study provides evidence that increased opportunities for seniors to share meals with others will promote elderly health and emotional well-being. Key U.S. findings include:

  • Two of five seniors who live alone have at least four warning signs of poor nutritional health.
  • One in five seniors says he or she sometimes or most of the time feels lonely when eating alone.
  • Seventy-six percent of these seniors eat alone most of the time.
  • The biggest mealtime challenge for older people who live alone is lack of the shared family experience, including lack of companionship.
  • Mealtimes last nearly twice as long when seniors who live alone share meals with others compared with when they eat alone.
  • A majority of seniors who live alone say they eat more nutritiously and the food actually tastes better when eating with others.
  • More than three-fourths of seniors say they wish their families shared more meals together.
  • The most common obstacle preventing these seniors from sharing more meals with others is that their family and friends don't have enough time.

As a result of this study, the Home Instead Senior Care network launched the Craving Companionship program to encourage extended families to bring back the family meal for the benefit of their seniors, especially those who live alone.

*The Home Instead Senior Care network completed 600 telephone interviews with seniors age 75 and older in the U.S. and 400 in Canada, excluding Quebec, who live alone in their own homes or apartments. The U.S. sampling error is +/-4.0% at a 95% confidence level. The Canadian sampling error is +/-4.9% at a 95% confidence level.

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