For someone living alone with a disability, a simple daily knock on the door can be a lifesaver. Organizations that provide such services are frequently supported by volunteers, a valuable opportunity for anyone to give back to their community.
Meals on Wheels of Eastern Kansas announced last week that it needs more volunteers to deliver meals, particularly in Douglas County. Across Kansas, 14 different organizations provide Meals on Wheels services, providing a warm meal and a daily welfare check to thousands of vulnerable Kansans. In some communities, churches, volunteer groups, or neighborhoods have networks of volunteers to check on home-bound community members.
These efforts are laudable and Kansans should lend a hand as they are able.
A daily welfare check can help reduce a range of health risks, but one of the greatest threats to elderly Kansans living alone is falling. For people older than 65, falls are the leading cause of injury-related emergency room visits and accidental deaths. The risk increases with age. For people over 75, falls account for 70 percent of accidental deaths. More than 90 percent of hip fractures, which have a significant impact on function and independence, are caused by falls, according to data from the American Academy of Family Physicians.
People living alone are at greater risk of falling and are less likely to receive prompt medical care following a fall. The longer medical care is delayed, the more someone’s risk of death increases, and the less likely they are to return to their former level of function.
We must also not overlook social isolation as a real health risk for home-bound Kansans. Humans are social creatures who need human contact and relationships to remain physically and mentally well.
Limited contact with other humans, simply being lonely, contributes to cognitive decline while increasing risk of heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases, according to the National Institute on Aging. One NIA researcher, Dr. Steve Cole of UCLA, described loneliness as “a fertilizer for other diseases” in his research linking social isolation to compromised immunity. He also found care-giving and volunteering, activities that connect people with others who share their values, is one of the best ways to prevent loneliness as we age.
Programs like Meals on Wheels truly help people live in their own homes and communities as long as possible.
Making sure someone gets a warm smile and a conversation, in addition to speedy access to medical care, if needed, makes it much more likely they will be able to maintain their independence.
Consider volunteering for a local program serving home-bound Kansans.