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RelAte: Assessment of a relationship-based mealtime intervention for older adults living alone

Background

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him”; Cesar Chavez.

Later life can be a time of increased changes to the social network, following ill health episodes and bereavements. Research has shown that loneliness and social isolation can have concrete impact on the psychological and physical health of an individual, and leave them vulnerable to increased mortality risk. It is incumbent upon psychological research to develop innovative new ways in which to improve the social support networks of vulnerable older adults. Another challenge which often faces older adults living alone is the motivation of cooking for one person. Decreases in cooking behaviour can increase malnutrition risk among this population. The Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance published the results of a nationwide survey in 2011 and found that the population over the age of 65 are particularly at risk of micronutrient deficiencies, and energy intake decline, while 49% of women and 59% of men over this age were also overweight. Encouraging home cooking, with simple and accessible recipes, can help people to manage their own nutrition and maintain a healthy weight into later life.

Study Rationale

Intervening upon loneliness and social isolation can often be difficult, since they are stigmatised conditions, and individuals can often be resistant towards accepting intervention. Combining a social support intervention with another aim, such as intervening uponĀ  nutritional risk and cooking behaviours, may be more acceptable, as well as being more effective by tackling two difficulties at once. Previous research suggests that interventions tackling more than one issue at once are the most effective, since supporting one issue at a time may not be sufficient for a population with numerous potential comorbidities. We proposed that the mealtime represents an ideal occasion in which to provide social and nutritional support. Peer support can be more effective than support given by professionals, and allows for social support as well as social learning. The RelAte project trained peer volunteers to deliver our home-based mealtime intervention throughout 2014.

Aims

We investigated the impact of a multimodal social and nutritional intervention on the functioning of older adults who are at risk of social isolation. The intervention was designed by our researchers, to comprise social and nutritional support, based on a shared mealtime protocol. We aimed to investigate functional outcomes such as physical health, quality of life, cognitive functioning, and psychosocial wellbeing. We compared recipients of the intervention to a control group of non-recipients to investigate the effectiveness of the intervention, at three time-points thereafter, to make concluding remarks about the longevity of the intervention effects. We also aimed to investigate wellbeing, cognition, and job satisfaction among the peer volunteers trained to deliver the intervention, since research suggests that volunteering is beneficial for our cognitive and psychosocial health. Ultimately, the RelAte study aimed to develop a sustainable and effective mealtime intervention which may alleviate social isolation and malnutrition among older Irish adults, enabling them to remain independently in the community for longer.

Study Design

RelAte was a 2 year project, which began in June 2013. The study used a randomised controlled trial design to investigate the effectiveness of the RelAte mealtime intervention. 100 older adults at risk of social isolation, as well as 50 peer volunteers to deliver the intervention, were recruited for involvement in the intervention deployment, which took place throughout 2014. The study is now complete, and the findings are in the process of being published.

RelAte Guidebook

You can download the PDF version of the RelAte Guidebook here.

Funding Agency

This research was funded by Home Instead Senior Care (www.homeinstead.ie).

Further information

For further information about RelAte contact the NEIL Programme.

 


Email: neil@tcd.ie
Last updated 23 May 2016

Enhance / Enable / Educate / Empower