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Funding Meals on Wheels Keeps Seniors Independent: Study

State's support may help older Americans avoid nursing home

FRIDAY, Dec. 7, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Meals delivered to older adults help them avoid costly and unnecessary nursing home care, according to a new study.

Researchers from Brown University found states that invest in these programs under the Older Americans Act are successful in helping seniors remain in their homes.

"Despite efforts to re-balance long-term care, there are still many nursing home residents who have the functional capacity to live in a less restrictive environment," wrote study authors Kali Thomas and Vincent Mor, both gerontology researchers. "States that have invested in their community-based service networks, particularly home-delivered meals, have proportionally fewer of these people than do those states that have not."

After analyzing spending and data on more than 16,000 nursing homes between 2000 and 2009, the researchers found the proportion of nursing home residents who did not require most of the services of their facility, or low-care residents, fell from about 18 percent to less than 13 percent.

After taking into account state spending on Medicaid-sponsored home and community-based services and other long-term care market factors, the researchers found home-based meals were the only statistically significant factor among Older Americans Act programs that influenced differences in the number of low-care nursing home residents.

State to state, however, the percentage of low-care nursing home residents varies significantly since funding for programs that provide home-delivered meals to seniors also differs. The researchers calculated states could reduce their percentage of low-care nursing home residents compared to the national average by one point for every $25 per year per senior above the national average they spend on these programs.

The study is published in Health Services Research.

"My 98-year-old granny was able to remain at home, independent in her house until she died, and we have always, even before I did this research, attributed that to Meals on Wheels," Thomas, who is also a Rhode Island Meals on Wheels volunteer, said in a university news release. "She lived four hours away from any family and refused to leave her house. We had comfort in knowing that every day someone was in her house to see how things are."

The study authors said drivers who deliver meals are able to observe and monitor the environment in which the seniors are living. They also report when seniors do not respond to a delivery, which serves as an additional safety measure.

Home-delivered meals served more than 868,000 seniors in fiscal 2010 and account for the majority of Older Americans Act spending, the researchers noted. Skilled nursing care, they added, also played a role in keeping older people out of nursing homes.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides more information on the Older Americans Act (http://www.aoa.gov/AoA_programs/OAA/index.aspx ).

SOURCE: Brown University, news release, Dec. 4, 2012