Meals on Wheels App Combats Elder Neglect

Sailor delivers hot meal to Meals on Wheels recipient
Image: U.S. Navy

Meals on Wheels is giving local governments yet another compelling reason to make up for lost federal funding: Its app-based reporting system for elder neglect is saving lives and community resources.

Meals on Wheels America has long been the first line of defense against elder abuse and neglect for millions of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens. And now the organization is making an even bigger difference thanks to an innovative app.

How the Technology Works

Developed in conjunction with San Diego-based West Health Institute and Brown University’s Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research, the app allows Meals on Wheels volunteers across the country to get ailing homebound clients the care they need, when they need it.

“When Meals on Wheels staff and volunteers are equipped with simple, yet effective screening tools while on their deliveries, they’re better able to react to changing conditions in seniors’ physical and mental state or environment before a particularly harmful health event occurs,” said Ellie Hollander, President and CEO of Meals on Wheels America, in a prepared statement. “This ability to respond in close to real-time can ultimately contribute to more agile coordination across medical and community-based service providers, improving outcomes and reducing costs.”

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society back in June, the app is working exactly as intended. In the 12-month period during which the researchers studied the app’s use in two of the organization’s community branches, drivers submitted 429 alerts for 189 clients, resulting in 132 referrals for self-care, health, and care management services.

Senior Citizen Self-Neglect Is a Major Issue

State adult protective services agencies last year intervened in more than 142,000 cases of senior citizen “self-neglect,” situations in which seniors had become too physically or mentally incapacitated to safely continue their own self-care, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting wrote in USA Today.

But the organization also notes that this number may be grossly under reported, since there is currently no federal mandate to collect this data.

“We have often referred to elder abuse [and neglect] as a silent issue,” said Edwin Walker, deputy assistant secretary for aging at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“In the mid-1970s, the federal government got in the business of charting out guidelines and parameters for addressing child abuse. But the federal government never did that for adult protective services or elder abuse.”

“Self-neglect cases also come with the underlying problem that adults are generally assumed to have autonomy and control of their decision-making,” the report continues, “so it is hard for a government agency to know when to intervene, particularly if the elderly person rejects assistance.”

This is exactly why the Meals on Wheels app is so vital.

“We do know that self-neglect increases illness, increases emergency room use, increases hospitalization, increases nursing home use, increases hospice use and hastens mortality,” said Holly Ramsey-Klawsnik, director of research for the National Adult Protective Services Association. “Self-neglect is costing society a lot of money when they have to go to the E.R. and have no money to pay for insurance.”

Read more about the Meals on Wheels app on EMS1.com.

Learn how the Minnesota Department of Human Services is helping seniors:

MN Initiative Helps 2,000 Nursing Home Residents Go Home

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Sarah Sinning

Sarah Sinning is Associate Editor of EfficientGov.com. She is based in North Carolina.