May 7, 2013
by Ashley Keenan

Ashley KeenanAshley Keenan is the Operations Manager of a home care company located in Chicago, IL. The following profile is a fictional representative of what challenges many elderly who age in place may face. *

Mrs. Anderson* is a 95-year-old Chicago resident. She has resided in the same, sun-drenched high-rise building since 1975. Her sprawling view overlooks Michigan Avenue where the streets are lined with lavish storefronts displaying $1,000 handbags, luxury cosmetics, and fine restaurants.

If you were to have asked me 5 years ago, before I entered the home care industry, I would have told you that it would be impossible for this woman to be food insecure. How could a woman with a grand piano, original framed artwork, and a closet full of Italian shoes be food insecure? There is not a simple answer to this question.

Often, when thinking of food insecure families, the images that come to mind are of single mothers budgeting SNAP benefits, an elderly person who is isolated and living on social security, or a child who doesn't eat a meal outside of his school cafeteria. What I have learned in working with the elderly is that many apparently well-to-do and middle class seniors suffer from food insecurity.

In the case of Mrs. Anderson there are many factors contributing to her food insecurity. The lifestyle she is accustomed to no longer reflects how she can afford to live. Each month her income allows her to pay rent, medical bills, and to purchase a few basic necessities. The real trouble, however, is that at this stage in her life she doesn't know how to budget for food because she has never had to.

Recently, Mrs. Anderson has started eating just one meal a day. She has caregivers visit to help her get in and out of bed and to bathe and groom her. In the morning they prepare her breakfast and offer to make meals that she can heat up later when she is alone. Lately she tells them not to worry about it. A year ago, before her financial trouble became apparent, she would go out to eat with friends, her caregivers provided live-in support and meal preparation three times a day, and she had the resources to buy healthful groceries every week. She was living life to the fullest because frankly, she did not expect to live much longer.

As her financial troubles became more pressing she cut down on the level of care she was receiving. Mrs. Anderson began purchasing fewer groceries, eliminated fresh produce from her diet, and started buying high-fat snack foods from the dollar store. She has come to a point in life where she must choose between paying her medical bills and eating dinner.

There are solutions available that could help Mrs. Anderson. She could move out of her home and into an assisted living facility. But with limited funds and few family members near by who would pack up her belongings? Who would find a suitable facility for her? Who would pay for it all? And at the age of 95, after a series of major cancer treatments, leaving her home for an assisted living facility may assure that she is eating well but it would also mean giving up everything she has ever known in order to pass away in sterile, unfamiliar environment.

As more and more baby boomers enter retirement age there will likely be increased cases of food insecurity among the upper middle class. This group will be especially vulnerable because social stigma may prevent them from seeking the help they need. So what can we do to prevent this group from suffering? We can open a dialogue about nutrition and wellness earlier in retirement. We can discuss how families and the elderly can prepare for the aging process, and share information on social programs before they are needed, not after. If seniors know what resources are available to them, who to call when they are in need, and what the warning signs are of malnutrition are, they may be more likely to advocate form themselves when in need. Or, hopefully, they may be able to make adequate adjustments to their lifestyles before food insecurity poses a risk to them.


Tags: Senior Hunger , Illinois

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