Association of Health Care Journalists: Meals on Wheels testing app to keep tabs on homebound elderly
BY LIZ SEEGERT | JULY 19, 2019
For many homebound elderly, the driver who delivers their weekly meals may be their only human contact all week. These volunteers often act as defacto eyes and ears; noticing changes in a client’s physical or mental health, social needs or home environment, before anyone else.
An innovative pilot program which uses a mobile app to alert care coordinators about these changes is expanding across the U.S. in the coming months. This joint effort by Meals on Wheels America, the West Health Institute and the Brown University Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research will grow to include up to 30 Meals on Wheels sites across the country, helping ensure the wellness of an estimated 40,000 seniors.
As part of Meals on Wheels’ “more than just a meal” service model, staff and volunteer drivers deliver meals and visit clients in their homes regularly. Collectively, the nutritious meals, friendly visits and routine check-ins help address three of the biggest threats to successful aging: hunger, isolation and loss of independence. By setting up drivers who know their clients with an app-based monitoring program, they are able to quickly and proactively notify Meals on Wheels care coordinators about any health or safety issues among their clients, facilitating connections with additional services and supports.
“We know that the social determinants of health, such as nutrition, play a key role in determining your health care trajectory, especially for seniors who are vulnerable, low income, or somewhat homebound. This can be a very critical situation,” said Zia Agha, M.D., medical director of West Health, a nonprofit focused on helping older adults age in place.