Elderly man
An elderly man stands in Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro September 13, 2011. Reuters/Ricardo Moraes

The elderly who live alone and receive meals at home feel less isolated and lonely, according to a new study. Research conducted by Brown University found that a regular knock on the door and a simple conversation goes a long way in reducing feelings of loneliness of elderly people.

"This continues to build the body of evidence that home-delivered meals provide more than nutrition and food security,” the study's lead author, Kali Thomas, said in a press release. "In a time when resources are being further constrained and demand is increasing, it is important that we have evidence that guides decision-making in terms of what services to provide and how best to provide them."

The researchers studied 626 older adults from eight US cities who were given daily or weekly meals, while others were assigned to remain on the waiting list, without receiving any from the Meals on Wheels programme for 15 weeks. The participants were asked to rate their feelings of loneliness from 0 to 9.

After analysing the results, the researchers found that participants who had home-delivered meals felt less isolated and lonely than the ones who were just on the waiting list. Initially, members of each group on average scored between three and four on the loneliness scale. After the test, people who received either weekly or daily delivery rated loneliness at 3.44, while those who did not receive meals rated loneliness higher, at 4.17.

The recipients of the home-delivered meals said that they feel safer and less worried about staying at home. Additionally, less falls and hospitalisations occurred when they were given home-delivered meals.

Thomas said that this shows the effect of home-delivered service on loneliness. Thomas believes that the study will be useful in guiding the government to make budget decisions to provide the best public and private programmes that cater to the elderly.

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