National Nutrition Month: Go Further with Food

March 27, 2018 - Paul Downey

Whether it was via a pyramid or plate diagram, most of us were taught that we should “eat the rainbow” every day in order to get the recommended daily amounts of vitamins, minerals and health benefits from our food. And most of us take for granted that we have easy access to fresh produce and balanced meals. We have options. We don’t think twice about the food choices at our fingertips.

Now imagine if you were living on just a few dollars a day. Would fresh produce or balanced meals be at the top of your list of concerns? Probably not. You’d likely be more worried about paying rent, affording medications, maybe getting to and from work or appointments. That’s the reality that many of our senior clients are living. Many of them can’t afford fresh foods or balanced meals. Our senior clients’ income, mostly in the form of Social Security, averages $950/month.

Access and Affordability

According to the Elder Index, developed by UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research, a single senior in San Diego needs an income of $1,974/month to afford basic rent, food, health costs and transportation. By this calculation, 41% of San Diego seniors live below the Elder Index. With a population of 202,413 adults aged 62 above, San Diego is home to nearly 83,000 seniors who have to choose between paying rent and purchasing food every day.

With limited access to nutritious food, most seniors initially arrive at Serving Seniors suffering from malnourishment or chronic health conditions related to poor nutrition, including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Health concerns, especially prolonged issues, reduce seniors’ quality of life and drive already-poor seniors even deeper into poverty, increasing their reliance on community-funded programs, as most are single or widowed with little or no familial support.

Helping Seniors Stay Healthy, One Meal at a Time

Fortunately, many of the chronic diseases older adults face are preventable through healthy eating. Since its founding in 1970, Serving Seniors has served more than 11 million nutritious meals, developed in partnership with a registered nutritionist and optimized for the nutritional needs of older adults, and has seen first-hand the beneficial effects of reliable access to healthy food. Between nine congregate dining sites and delivering daily meals to 500 homebound seniors, we serve nearly 2,000 meals daily, every day of the year.

The meals we serve accommodate a variety of dietary needs, including low-sodium and low-fat diets, and are often the only source of food for San Diego seniors who would otherwise go hungry. And the benefits of a healthy diet are profound: increased mental acuteness, resistance to illness and disease, faster recuperation after illness and medical procedures, higher energy levels and more.

So Much More Than Meals

Serving Seniors’ nutrition program provides much more than food and senior-specific nutrition education – it brings seniors, most of whom live alone, together for camaraderie. This socialization is invaluable to our clients. In almost every case, our seniors tell us that they keep coming to our Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center for the companionship as much as the meals, and that the combination of friendship and healthy food has helped them remain healthy, active and independent. They join walking and hobby groups, take fitness classes, attend cooking demonstrations, play games, learn how to use computers and much more.

You (and Your Taxes) Benefit From Healthy Senior Neighbors, Too

Healthy people use fewer expensive public resources, such as ambulance transport and emergency room care. According to American Medical Response San Diego, the cost of an ambulance transport is about $1,800; Medicare pays only about $434 and Medi-Cal pays only $118. For roughly the same cost as an ambulance ride, Serving Seniors can feed a senior for an entire year. When nutritious food has been proven to be as important as medicine, especially for older adults, it makes financial sense to help our elder neighbors stay healthy in the first place. After all, as a supremely wise man once said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

In honor of National Nutrition Month, please consider supporting Serving Seniors’ nutrition program.

What Serving Seniors is Doing About the Flu Outbreak in San Diego

January 12, 2018 - Paul Downey

The 2017-2018 flu season is being described as the deadliest flu season on record in San Diego, with more than 10,300 cases and 91 deaths reported so far. And it’s not just elderly people dying from flu-related complications, like pneumonia: in California, 27 people younger than the age of 65 have died this year, compared to 4 last year.

With the number of flu-related deaths having doubled (from 45 to 91) in one week, County officials recommend that everyone get a flu shot. Officials report that 70% of flu-related deaths in San Diego were people who had not been vaccinated. The vaccine is 40% effective and more than 600,000 have been administered across the county this season.

The Flu and Seniors

It’s important that seniors protect themselves and not underestimate the seriousness of the flu, as it’s especially contagious and can be life-threatening, especially for older adults, people with chronic medical conditions and people with compromised immune systems.

According to the CDC, “people 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu compared to young, healthy adults because human immune defenses become weaker with age.” Flu shots are covered by Medicare.

Early detection is important for seniors, who are encouraged to seek medical treatment at the first sign of symptoms. If caught early, the flu can be treated with a prescription of antiviral medication, which helps shorten the duration and lessen the symptoms of the illness.

How Serving Seniors is Combating the Flu

  • Our nurse case management team has developed a pamphlet to educate clients and staff about the flu and how to prevent it, including effective hand washing.
  • Infection control and communicative disease training has been provided for staff.
  • We have a nurse case manager available onsite at our Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center Monday – Saturday, with walk-in hours and appointment availability.
  • Serving Seniors has partnered with SHARP HealthCare to provide flu education and vaccinations in our facilities.
  • Staff with flu symptoms are encouraged to stay or return home to prevent spreading illness.

Flu Symptoms Include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue/confusion
  • Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea
  • People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever

How to Protect Yourself and Others from the Flu

  • Get the flu vaccine. Find out where
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often
  • Use hand sanitizers
  • Stay away from sick people
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Regularly clean commonly touched surfaces with antibacterial solutions
  • If you are sick, stay home and avoid contact with others, especially older adults, young children, people with chronic medical conditions and people with compromised immune systems
  • If you start to get flu-like symptoms, seek medical attention immediately

A Special Story for #GivingTuesday

November 28, 2017 - Paul Downey


Today is #GivingTuesday, a global giving movement for generous individuals and organizations to support the causes they care about and the communities in which they live.

We have an ambitious goal of raising $25,000 to provide 10,000 meals for hungry seniors living in poverty.

I’m sharing a story, below, about one of those seniors: 70-year-old Bruce, who worked hard all his life only to end up homeless after a series of major health challenges. Please take a moment to read his story, and consider making a gift to Serving Seniors so that we can help more folks like Bruce. You can donate online quickly, easily and securely.

I deeply appreciate any support that you can give.

Thank you.

Paul Downey
President and CEO

How Bruce Regained His Dignity

For many of us, the holiday season means gathering with friends and family for feasting and gifts. It means vacations and visits and cozy fires in the hearth.

But imagine what the holidays would be like if you were homeless, had lost your family and friends, possessed only what you could carry, and were just trying to survive.

Sadly, that’s the reality for many of our elderly neighbors, like Bruce.

Bad Luck

Bruce, a Vietnam veteran originally from Cape Cod, was working as a building supervisor in a big upscale building in downtown San Diego. He loved his job and made a good salary. He could live comfortably and still put some money into his savings every month. He worked hard, cherishing his independence, never drinking or doing drugs, and counted himself fortunate. Until 2014, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

While undergoing cancer treatment Bruce suffered a brain aneurysm and stroke, then a heart attack. He was hospitalized and unable to work, undergoing frequent surgeries and treatments. The savings he’d worked so hard to put away were depleted with astonishing speed. When he woke up, he found himself alone. Everyone he’d counted as a friend had disappeared.

Homeless at 67 Years Old

When he was finally released from the hospital, it was to the street. Bruce no longer had a job or a home to go to. He searched and searched for a place to lease with the little money he had left. He found nothing. He couldn’t afford to rent even the smallest, dingiest apartment or motel room. At 67 years old, Bruce was officially homeless.

Three years later and 70 years old, Bruce was still homeless and looking for something to do with his days. Coincidentally, he ran into a gentleman from his old building who recommended Serving Seniors’ Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center as a starting place.

A Glimmer of Hope

Arriving at the Center, Bruce discovered that he could get a hot, nutritious meal, as well as receive help and access other services. Within a few weeks, he was paired with a Serving Seniors social worker and enrolled in our Transitional Housing Program for Homeless Seniors.

After months of hard work and perseverance, Bruce is back on his feet. He recently moved into his own apartment, no longer in need of the Transitional Housing Program. He is healthy and independent again and wants to go back to work. He’s justifiably proud of how far he’s come. He’s learned to believe in himself again.

“I’m so thankful to Serving Seniors for helping me obtain a clean, safe place to live, with a kitchen of my own. I had nothing, but now I have my life, my dignity back. I feel like a human being again.”

The Homelessness Epidemic

Unfortunately, Bruce’s story is not unique. The number of homeless seniors in San Diego increases every year, and will continue to do so. Thousands of our neighbors are living on Social Security incomes of less than $1,000 per month. Many are isolated and depressed – nearly half of them have to choose between rent and food, every single day. The majority of them will not celebrate the holidays with feasting or gifts.

They will be too busy trying to survive – to stay warm at night and dry if it rains – to celebrate the holidays at all.

We need your help more than ever in order to assist the growing number of seniors living in poverty in San Diego. We need to not only maintain, but increase, our Transitional Housing Program for Homeless Seniors, so that we can help deserving seniors like Bruce move off the street permanently. But we can’t do it without you.

Bruce's Journey

YOU Can Help Homeless Seniors Like Bruce

Your gift today will provide lifesaving food and shelter to homeless seniors this holiday season. Meeting these basic needs is often all the help they require to get back on their feet. These seniors want help. They want to be independent and self-sufficient and contribute to their community. They just need a helping hand. Will you help provide it for them?

I hope that you will make a gift and help eradicate homelessness, hunger, and isolation for San Diego’s seniors. Every contribution, however large or small, helps a senior in need. Together, we can continue helping seniors in poverty live healthy, fulfilling, independent lives.

Donate to Serving Seniors

Keep Your Lungs Healthy

November 3, 2017 - Paul Downey

This guest post is courtesy of E. Walsh, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

We want to help seniors in San Diego stay safe and healthy as cold and flu season approaches. Most people don’t think about their lungs until a problem develops, and by age 80 the average person has taken 672,768,000 breaths. All day every day your lungs work hard to keep your blood full of oxygen and your body healthy.

Here are some tips to help you and your lungs stay healthy this flu season:

Get a Flu Shot

It’s easy to underestimate the seriousness of the flu, but it’s also dangerous: 50% of people hospitalized with the flu are over age 65, and virtually all flu-related deaths occur among older individuals. This is unfortunate and preventable with an annual shot of the flu vaccine.

Flu shots are available in many places around San Diego. You can go to your pharmacy, make an appointment with your primary care provider, or visit a health clinic. Best of all, the flu shot is a benefit covered by Medicare, so there is no cost to you. Set up an appointment today and protect yourself against the flu.

Where to get a flu shot in San Diego.

Schedule a Medical Screening

Visiting a healthcare provider can be an anxiety-inducing experience — no one wants to receive bad news. You might also be worried about the cost, but we’re here to help.

Serving Seniors’ team at our Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center can connect you with a caring nurse who can help prepare you for what to expect during your appointment, and who can help you understand any results you receive after an exam. If you need assistance with Medicare or Medi-Cal we can connect you with a healthcare advocate.

We can also help you find low-cost or no-cost access to healthcare — it’s important to get regular access to the care you need to make sure your lungs are working properly. Tell your healthcare professional about any history of illness including asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, lung cancer or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Have a Clean, Safe Place to Live

Many respiratory illnesses start where you’re living. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can watch out for, to stay safe. Beware of what you’re breathing into your body, especially when it comes to dust, mold and asbestos.

Dust comes from a number of sources, including human and animal hair, pollen from plants, soil and other materials. Dust particles can be trapped in furniture, carpets, curtains, bedding and other surfaces. Regular cleaning and vacuuming helps reduce dust. You might also consider an air filter for your home.

Mold is another common hazard. It develops naturally in moist locations such as bathrooms, basements and any place where water collects. In some cases mold can make you very sick, especially if you have asthma or allergies. Regularly check your home and yard for standing water, leaks or drips and signs of mold growth. Fix leaks immediately and ensure that any water in your yard can quickly drain away from your home.

Asbestos is common in construction materials used in older buildings and homes, but is relatively safe when left alone and intact. However, when products containing the mineral are broken or damaged, asbestos fibers can become airborne, causing accidental exposure through inhalation. Over time, this can cause mesothelioma cancer. Asbestos can be found in a number of areas and construction materials, including basements, flooring, and walls. Never begin renovation without first having a professional assess the building materials of your home.

It’s extremely important to have a safe place to live. If you need more information about affordable housing options, please contact us.

Take Action

It can be easy to do nothing, but when it comes to flu prevention, medical screenings and a safe place to live, we can help. Take action and take care of yourself — you’ll gain peace of mind and be glad you did.

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