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A program that provides meals to seniors in New Hampshire is also helping them combat the biggest risk to their long-term health – loneliness.
The Dine Out Program is designed to get people 60 years and older out of their homes to go eat in participating restaurants and socialize. The initiative, funded under the federal Older Americans Act Nutrition Program, state resources and donations, seeks to address an insidious isolation crisis.
The U.S. surgeon general warned in May that widespread loneliness in the U.S. poses health risks as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes daily. Research shows that Americans, who have become less engaged with worship houses, community organizations and even their own family members in recent decades, have steadily reported an increase in feelings of loneliness.
But the crisis deeply worsened when COVID-19 spread. In declaring the latest public health epidemic, the surgeon general says loneliness increases the risk of premature death by nearly 30%. The research shows that those with poor social relationships also had a greater risk of stroke and heart disease. Isolation also elevates a person’s likelihood for experiencing depression, anxiety and dementia. And those risk factors are particularly dangerous for seniors.
In New Hampshire, the Dine Out Program is run by Meals on Wheels of Hillsborough County whose experts work with restaurants to design menus that meet dietary guidelines for seniors.
Seniors are changing. They may still be working, taking care of grandchildren, and fitting in medical appointments, unable to show up at a set time for lunch or dinner. And after years of cooking for others, it’s nice to be able to sit at the restaurant and order a meal.
According to information compiled by Meals on Wheels America, one in four Americans is at least 60 years old, with 12,000 more turning 60 every day. Those on fixed incomes also are living longer with less money; one in two seniors living alone lacks the income to pay for basic needs.
Patrons are encouraged to contribute a few dollars per meal, but they aren’t required to. Restaurants are reimbursed by the program organizer.
This article was provided by The Associated Press.