As Good As Gold?

Maybe it’s just the time of year that makes me reflect a little on the cycle of life and those of us who are now classified as “older adults.” Fall is a favorite season for me, but not so much for those who might be facing the challenges of their golden years with not much gold at all. At Loaves & Fishes, our senior populations have been quietly growing, whispering the need for a little more attention than we might think.

IMGP4518smWhat do we know? AARP (a great organization that somehow manages to find anyone over 50 immediately) has led the way with some great research on food insecurity among older adults. They make the point that we might well overlook the late-life hardships of this population, thinking that the social security/ Medicare safety net is strong enough to hold back the tough times. Not so, however. The overall rate of food insecurity jumped dramatically for older adults during the 2008 recession (to 18%) and has stayed at this level or higher ever since. After all, the opportunities to recover from the damages of the recession are more limited for seniors. Many have disappeared from the workforce altogether.

Loaves & Fishes has worked hard to have nutritional solutions for our families with young children, which is appropriate because they are perhaps the most food insecure populations in America. But what can we do to help our seniors?

During Hunger Action Month, a small group of concerned agencies met to talk about the contours of this group, and why they might need special attention. We were all in agreement: more seniors than ever are in need of help, and they have certain characteristics that might make them a little harder to reach. Here are some highlights from the discussion:

  • Seniors have more than their fair share of transportation problems. Especially in locations where bus schedules are non-existent, seniors can’t predict their travel. They are often without a car and at the mercy of a willing family member or friend to get where they are going.
  • Seniors are often experiencing health concerns or disabilities that make it difficult to wait in the lobby, negotiate crowded areas, or walk long distances. That’s a sure recipe for keeping you out of many of the social service agencies offering needed assistance.
  • Those same disabilities can demand a restricted diet, or at least a modified diet. Chronic care for diabetes, high blood pressure, and other diet-related illnesses requires a good working knowledge of nutrition, and more effort.
  • Many older adults have blended into other families, so that they almost lose their personal space and identity, and may be last on the list when it comes to meeting needs.
  • This hard-working generation seems to be the most sensitive and embarrassed about their circumstances. They don’t like to feel like a burden.
    I hope you don’t feel the need to point out that this contemplation might be a little self-serving. Believe me, we’re all getting older. It is heart-warming to know that there are many who still care about what happens to our predecessors. Food insecurity is a problem that we can solve for seniors, even when it takes a little extra TLC.

    Jane Macdonald
    Associate Director of Community Health