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Program aims to help lonely seniors, while delivering food to them

Posted at 4:04 PM, Dec 12, 2018

Millions of older Americans are growing old all alone. As Baby Boomers age, and start losing loved ones, loneliness can take its toll.

The issue is becoming such a concern some national organizations are stepping in.

“This was the one thing I said when I retire, I want to do Meals on Wheels,” says volunteer Donna Reuss.

Reuss has been volunteering for the organization Meals on Wheels for six years. She not only brings seniors a free meal, but she’s often the only person they really interact with for weeks at a time.

“One of the things that really surprised me when I first started this was how many seniors live alone,” Reuss says.

Loneliness can have a big impact on their health. Research shows that lacking social connections can be as harmful to someone’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“It's a much bigger problem I think than people realize,” says Mary Lee Anderson, with Senior Services of Alexandria.

Anderson’s nonprofit organization helps deliver food for Meals on Wheels. She’s helping with a new pilot project that lets volunteers delivering meals use a cell phone app to report any changes in behavior or concerns they notice while visiting with a senior.

“It lets our volunteers, if they notice a problem, report it right on their phone,” she explains. “That information is sent back to us at the office and we can then contact the individual who is responsible, a family member or their city social worker if they don't have a close family member.”

The pilot program is currently being tested in 10 cities across the country, and it’s expected to expand to another 50 cities early next year.