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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

Daily Dose

Can free meals keep seniors out of nursing homes?

Can providing free meals to seniors in failing health prevent some from winding up in nursing homes? In a study published last week, Brown University researchers found that, all things being equal, the amount a state spends on subsidized meals correlates with a reduction in the percentage of relatively healthy seniors in nursing homes.

The researchers examined state expenditure data for subsidized meal delivery programs and compared it with the percentage of “low-care” nursing home residents — who don’t use most nursing home services or require much supervised care — living in more than 16,000 nursing homes nationwide.

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What they found was that states that spent more per senior citizen (residents age 65 and over) on delivered meals had lower rates of low-care residents in their nursing homes. Massachusetts spent $48 per senior in 2009, the latest year for which data is available, which is less than Wyoming, which spent $82 per senior, and more than Washington, which spent just $8.

A variety of subsidized meals programs are available in the state. These include Meals on Wheels, which delivers free or low-cost meals to seniors at their homes, Minuteman Senior Services, which offers meals at senior centers, and Magnolia Meals at Home for breast cancer patients. D.K.

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