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Meal programs reduce nursing home use, researchers say

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A little extra spending on meal delivery programs can help a state sharply reduce the percentage of residents with moderate, “low-care” needs who are living in nursing homes. 

Kali Thomas and Vincent Mar have analyzed the effects of “meals on wheels programs” and similar low-intensity support programs in a paper distributed by the Health Research and Educational Trust.

Thomas and Mar conducted the study by looking at state services expenditure data and nursing home occupancy data.

Other long-term care (LTC) specialists have estimated that about 5 percent to 30 percent of nursing home residents are low-care residents who might be better off living in the community, the researchers said.

The researchers found that increasing federal spending on home- delivered meals and related services has helped cut the proportion of low-care residents in nursing homes to 12.6 percent in 2009, from 17.9 percent in 2000.

Every additional $25 spent on home-delivered meals per year, per state resident ages 65 and older, translated into a 1 percentage point decrease in the percentage of the nursing home population made up of low-care residents, the researchers said.

Home-delivered meals help keep older people at home by providing food, but the programs also provide companionship and someone to check up o the safety and unmet health care needs of older adults the researchers said.

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