Every day, Meals on Wheels volunteers serve more than 900,000 free meals to housebound seniors in need. Now, thanks to an innovative program that originated in San Diego, these volunteers are being equipped to serve as a kind of early warning system to alert authorities of health care concerns that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
Meals on Wheels Volunteers Use Mobile Technology to Protect Senior Health
We were encouraged to read about this program, which was described in this article published last month in the San Diego Union-Tribune. “An innovative program that leverages Meals on Wheels’ massive network of observant and tireless volunteers is getting a nationwide expansion after starting as a pilot program in San Diego County,” the article explains. “The national nonprofit that serves more than 900,000 free meals to needy seniors every day announced that it is expanding a health and safety alert program co-developed by San Diego’s West Health Institute and Brown University that uses mobile technology to trigger rapid assistance for home-bound seniors when drivers detect signs of medical, social or environmental distress.”
What made the program easy to implement, says the article, was that it uses a simple modification to a mobile app with which many volunteers are already familiar. “The key to making the program work was modification of an existing mobile application that some Meals on Wheels programs use to track deliveries,” the Union-Tribune reports. “A new version of the software asks drivers whether they have noticed any changes in a client’s condition after each delivery. When the answer to that first question is ‘yes,’ the system automatically moves through a carefully-designed set of sub-questions designed to quickly determine what kind of changes have taken place.” This data then goes to a medical expert who can quickly evaluate the situation and engage other service providers to help offer a rapid solution.
San Diego Data Shows Nearly One in Four Meals on Wheels Beneficiaries Triggered an Alert
In the pilot study which covered a one-year period in 2017 and 2018, researchers employed the new app on 20 San Diego-area Meals on Wheels routes serving 850 clients. During that period, according to principal investigator Dr. Andrea Morris, drivers sent in 425 different alerts regarding nearly 200 clients. “The most common reasons for alerts, Morris said, were physical and mental health issues followed by issues with self-care, mobility and social engagement. ‘Seniors who were facing issues around loneliness and social isolation…came up quite a bit,’ Morris said.” According to the article, “the most common response was helping meal respondents schedule transportation to doctor’s appointments and senior centers, though, in some cases, observations made during meal deliveries were forwarded to adult protective services if elder abuse was suspected.”
The results have proven so encouraging that Meals on Wheels plans to expand the program to 26 communities in 16 states. One of the biggest plusses of using Meals on Wheels for health care alerts, say researchers, is that the “sheer scale of Meals on Wheels means that it has the kind of reach that clinicians can only dream of.” Meals on Wheels volunteers see their senior clients every day and often spend more time with them than a doctor would. “Volunteers have the opportunity to develop relationships over time, making them very likely to pick up on the subtle changes that often occur before a more serious medical or social program, such as a fall or a suicide,” said the Union-Tribune article. “At the end of the day, the idea is to prevent those more serious outcomes by handling the smaller problems much sooner.”
Meals on Wheels Volunteers Have Been Watching Out for Clients for Decades
Meals on Wheels executive Carter Florence noted that this kind of work is nothing new for the organization: volunteers have been keeping paper logbooks of client changes for decades. But using the app seems to give volunteers “a heightened sense of satisfaction that the observations they make during deliveries will be acted upon,” according to the news report. Because early results from San Diego and a similar pilot project in Ohio appear promising, Meals on Wheels would like to roll out the app-based observation program nationally. However, that will take some time, the article says, because there are some 5,000 Meals on Wheels-affiliated organizations across the U.S. “The plan is to keep moving forward with those organizations that express the most willingness and desire to adopt the new system,” the Union-Tribune reports. “Monitoring the results from that group…will help make the case that further investment is worthwhile.” We’ll keep an eye out for further developments in this encouraging story.
The Right Retirement Plan Can Keep You from Feeling Isolated
If there’s a downside to this report, it’s in the fact that too many seniors are living in isolation. As you age, you of course want your privacy to be respected and your wishes accommodated, but living all by yourself can have a definite downside. What’s more, having a good housing plan in place – whether remaining in your own home, choosing to rent, moving to a retirement community or living with loved ones – is important, but a housing plan alone is not sufficient. Unless your housing plans are linked to your medical needs, you’re going to face some very difficult unanticipated choices in the not-too-distant future. The same goes for financial planning, legal planning, even family planning: none of these essential elements in sound retirement planning can be considered in isolation. All the gears have to mesh.
To our knowledge, there’s just one retirement plan that accomplishes this level of interdependence: a LifePlan from AgingOptions. And there’s an easy, obligation-free way to find out more about this uniquely powerful approach to retirement planning: come join Rajiv Nagaich for a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. You’ll learn loads of timely, objective information, and you’ll discover that it really is possible to protect your assets in retirement while avoiding becoming a burden to those you love. There’s probably a LifePlanning Seminar coming soon that’s convenient for you. Click here for details and online registration, and then come join Rajiv Nagaich at an upcoming live event.
(originally reported at www.sandiegouniontribune.com)