Meals on Wheels, ASU studies how pets affect social isolation and loneliness among older adults

Meals on Wheels, ASU studies how pets affect social isolation and loneliness among older adults silhouette

Eryka Forquer

Cronkite News

Steve Siegel, a Sun City Meals on Wheels volunteer, walks back to his vehicle after delivering prepared food to an elderly homeowner who lives alone.

“We’re the only contact they have once a day,” Siegel said. “It assures them that they are at least checked daily, depending on how often they eat.”

That daily contact gives volunteers critical insight into whether lonely clients are experiencing health consequences. Meals on Wheels America and Arizona State University are now partnering on a study into the effect pets have on social isolation and loneliness, and how food service can expand its programs for pet owners.

As more baby boomers pass retirement age, the problem will only grow. Nearly a quarter of adults age 65 and older
they are considered socially isolated, which can lead to loneliness and health risks, including higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicide, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Isolation deprives people of important human interactions, said Aaron Guest, assistant professor of aging at ASU. Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging.

“When we are disconnected or isolated and we don’t have people around us.” he said, “we don’t have the benefits of things like touch, the ability to see another person, or the ability to report back after an event.”

Guest said that pets help their owners feel less alone.

Meals on wheels America is a national association dedicated to addressing hunger and isolation among older people. Supports Meals on Wheels programs across the country that provide services tailored to the needs and resources of their communities. Programs typically serve meals to adults 60 and older, and the cost ranges from free to full price.

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The organization also delivers pet food; sand for cats; leashes and other supplies, including toys and treats, through your Meals on Wheels Loves Pets Grant Program. And it helps customers get temporary pet boarding, preventative veterinary care, and grooming services.

The study ASU is conducting is based on prior investigation that Meals on Wheels America conducted with 415 customers with pets, highlighting the extent of the human-animal bond.

“For the first round of research we did, we found that around 70% of respondents lived alone, and this group reported that nearly 100% of their pets brought happiness into their lives,” said Morgan Hultquist, manager of Meals on Wheels. America. Strategy and Impact Team.

Most of those surveyed agreed that having a pet makes them healthier and less lonely. Hultquist said the earlier study also revealed a need for pet assistance.

“Meals on Wheels customers mentioned that what they needed most was pet food, vaccinations and nail trims,” he said, adding that about 30% of those interviewed mentioned that they sometimes ignore their personal needs to care for their pets. .

About half of the 415 customers also reported that they had no one outside of Meals on Wheels to help them with their pets. Hultquist said many of the Meals on Wheels community programs began offering pet services after seeing customers feed their pets portions of their meals delivered. The organization has distributed pet food donations to more than 350 local programs across the country.

Meals on Wheels America’s partnership with ASU will help expand its services for customers with pets.

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“I think those results will really complement our first round of research and give us additional perspective to not only confirm things we already knew, but to continue to work on,” Hultquist said. “To expand programming and make sure we’re building the right resources and technical assistance just through what we’ve learned and to better support Meals on Wheels programs and their customers as well.”

The researchers will survey 400 Meals on Wheels customers with and without pets. Questions for pet owners include whether the owner receives support from any professional services for their pet, has someone take their pet to the vet, and has they ever been without personal care or necessities to meet their pet.

The survey also includes prompts that focus on the bond between animals and their owners. Respondents are asked if they consider their pet a member of the family and if their pet provides comfort or emotional support.

Study results are expected in late spring or early summer, Hultquist said.

Guest said the results will provide more insight into the human-animal bond and allow him and his fellow researchers to provide a set of recommendations for national implementation.

“I think we’ll see that having a pet is somewhat protective, meaning that having a pet will result in reduced rates of social isolation and reduced rates of loneliness,” he said. “I hope we’ll see people become very attached to their pets, but I also hope we’ll see challenges in pet ownership that we haven’t considered yet.”

Guest said respondents reported challenges in getting proper veterinary care.

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“As we think about designing the program and our recommendations, we are going to have to consider the diversity of settings,” he said. “Obviously it’s probably easier to design something for someone who lives in a place like Phoenix than it is for someone who lives in a more rural setting.”

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