About four years ago, Comfort Keepers launched "Nourishing Senior Life," a national initiative to provide better nutrition for the elderly. In 2012, Comfort Keeper franchises, which provide non-medical in-home care, collected 110,000 pounds of food.
This fall, the Tiffin Comfort Keepers office plans to participate in the national program in conjunction with September as Hunger Action Month. Comfort Keepers owner Gary Neisler has been working with Dawn Abraham-Egbert of WTSC Radio to come up with a local spin for the effort. They are calling it "Tackle Senior Hunger."
Statistics indicate one in every nine seniors is at risk from eating the wrong kinds of food. Neisler said his employees visit clients in their homes and have a good sense of what local seniors need.
"One of the things we 'tackle' every day is the nutrition part. There's a difference between hunger and nutrition with seniors. Lots of things they go through affect it," Neisler said.
He and Egbert decided to contact the Columbian High School principal and football coach to ask about collecting food at high school football games in Tiffin. Both men were excited about doing a project to help the community.
"When we were discussing with Gary some of the things we could do with advertising, this came up. Our minds just started working on it and we talked about doing something together. We came up with this theme and a way to put it in action," Egbert said. "'Tackle Senior Hunger' was perfect for the football games."
To keep tabs on seniors, Comfort Keepers advises people to take five preventive steps that are represented by the word WATCH.
Watch for physical problems such as bruising, dental problems, weight loss or weight gain.
Ask seniors about their eating habits and preferences.
Talk to a doctor about addressing individual needs.
Check with a pharmacist about drug side effects and interactions with foods.
Visit during meal time to observe eating habits.
At Frost Kalnow Stadium, bins are to be placed at the entry by the tennis courts and at the gate atop the Monroe Street hill. The public is asked to donate non-perishable canned and packaged foods suitable for consumption by senior citizens.
"Our first collection date will be Sept. 6, and then we're also looking at additional dates of Oct. 4 and Oct. 18," Egbert said. "We will also have a container that if ... people want to donate money, we'll take money and then purchase nutritious groceries for seniors."
Neisler said seniors with conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, digestive disorders and osteoporosis require certain foods. With fixed incomes, many choose to buy convenient, less expensive products with low nutritional value to save money for medications.
"It's like, 'Do I buy my medicine or do I eat?,'" Neisler said.
At the same time, nutritious food can be as important as medicine for good health, because it can slow the onset of dementia and other diseases and help the body absorb drugs. Neisler's caregivers encourage seniors to "cook once and eat twice" by freezing excess portions for other meals.
The senior food pyramid differs from traditional guidelines. Neisler said the website myplate.gov has a nutrition graphic to show the servings of food best for elderly people.
Water consumption also is important, because dehydration can cause dizziness and falls.
Other factors for seniors include difficulty chewing and swallowing, and medications that change the way foods taste. Vision loss, weakness and arthritis can make preparing food a challenge. Depression, which affects up to 6 million people older than 65, can reduce one's appetite and activity.
Figures from the National Council on Aging say one in six Americans lives in poverty and finds it hard to get transportation for shopping, to plan and prepare nutritious meals. The elderly may have to depend on caregivers and family members to take them shopping and do cooking.
"There'll be three times as many seniors in the next three decades.... We can't not do something.," Neisler said.
Comfort Keepers, WTSC Radio and Handy Graphics are sponsoring "Tackle Senior Hunger." Egbert and Neisler also met with Bryan Glover, director of the Commission on Aging, to enlist his help in getting the food to needy seniors.
"We feel good that Bryan's going to make sure it goes 100 percent to seniors. That's so important to us," Neisler said.
Right now, Columbian is the only location for the collections, but Egbert and Neisler would like to expand the effort to other schools and make it an annual event. Tiffin City Schools will put out notices to promote Tackle Senior Hunger to students and their families.
"We're really excited to be teaming up with a lot of different organizations in Tiffin to help out a great cause," Egbert said.
To learn more, call Comfort Keepers at (419) 443-1044 or e-mail keith@senecacountyradio.