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Oral Health Among Seniors
By Travis Copeland, Programs & Aging Initiatives Intern
August 15, 2018
Dodging puddles of snowmelt on a cold January morning, I stepped gingerly but lively as I walked down East 40th Street to my destination on Lexington Avenue: Citymeals on Wheels. I nervously checked and re-checked my watch while waiting in the lobby, watching for my “intern boss.” The idea of doing this every Monday through Thursday for the next seven months still seemed overwhelming.
Citymeals brought me on as an intern primarily to work on an exciting new project in partnership with Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine looking at oral health complications among meal recipients. See, home-delivered meals are prepared to meet strict dietary and nutritional guidelines. But if a recipient has trouble chewing or swallowing the meal, whether because of loose dentures, missing teeth, or any other reason, much of it goes to waste, and the recipient loses much of the nutritional value of the meal.
Enter Columbia University, who will study a sample of meals on wheels recipients with oral health complications, with the goal of evaluating the possibility of modifying meals to make them easier to eat for those recipients with trouble chewing and swallowing. The study is still in the recruitment phase, so it will be some time before Columbia will have results. But the staff at Citymeals are excited about the possibility of better serving our clients.
Because that’s what we do here at Citymeals: work to ensure the nutritional security of older adults who can’t source or prepare meals for themselves. And these efforts extend beyond daily meal deliveries – I helped coordinate the delivery of Passover Holiday boxes on the Lower East Side, for example. And a large part of my internship duties has been enrolling clients in Citymeals’ expanded Mobile Food Pantry program.
While Citymeals ensures that every meals on wheels recipient gets at least one meal a day, there are still clients who don’t have the resources to buy and prepare food beyond that and are at risk of malnutrition. So we partnered with local food pantries and case management agencies to target neighborhoods in particular need, and provide an additional bag of pantry items to these clients, delivered to their door by our volunteers. I’m proud to have helped expand the program from fewer than 50 recipients when I began, to now nearly 300.
But none of this would be possible without each and every one of the thousands of volunteers helping Citymeals on the front lines and behind the scenes.
As I close out my time here at Citymeals, I’m impressed by the dedication and capability of this cast of thousands to meet the needs of over 18,000 older adults across the city.