Empty Refrigerators Could Equal Poor Health for Seniors

By Jennifer B. Buckley

 

If you are caring for an elderly loved-one, consider keeping their refrigerator well stocked to keep them healthy. Sounds strange? Well a newly published research letter in the August 12, 2000 issue of The Lancet suggests this claim fairly accurate.

According to the report, “Elderly people with empty refrigerators are more likely to be readmitted to the hospital after assessment compared with patients with adequate refrigerator content.” Researchers from Geneva University Hospital in Switzerland conducted the study. A total of 132 elderly patients (aged 65 and older) recently discharged from the hospital for various aliments were studied. All received routine medical visits in their homes at least once a month after their release from the hospital. During the visits, medical researchers did a thorough assessment of their refrigerator content; classifying it as adequate, inadequate or empty.

A classification of adequate meant the seniors contained the appropriate amounts of different food products to maintain proper nutrition. An inadequate measure was based on refrigerators containing rotten foods or outdated foods. An empty classification proposed there were less than three different food products in the fridge.

Additional data collected included variables such as body mass index, biological markers and nutrition. In addition, social data was collected and proved to be a valuable measure. According to a report on Aging-Related Statistics published in 2000 by the Federal Interagency Forum, seniors who are socially active are more likely to have better physical and mental health.

Patients were evaluated for at least three months, and the numbers and exact dates of hospital admission were calculated within the figure. The study recorded that of the 132 refrigerators assessed, 119 or 90% were classified as having adequate or inadequate food content and 13 or 10% were considered empty. The patients with an empty refrigerator, compared to patients with a full refrigerator, did not differ in age, gender, body mass index, or socially.

According to the findings, four or 31% of the patients with empty refrigerators were admitted back into the hospital four weeks following the conclusion of the assessments. Only 10 or 8% of those patients with a full fridge had to be readmitted into the hospital.

The study concludes that the adjusted risk of being admitted was increased threefold with an empty refrigerator.

The report suggests that future studies need to be completed in other settings to help determine the impact on one’s health from an empty refrigerator. However, caregivers may want to take notice of food content in their loved-one’s home. The report does not give direction as to which food products should be kept stocked up, just that the food product should not be spoiled or outdated. The Food and Drug Administration’s food pyramid is normally recommended for an adequate source of nutrition for most people, except those on special diets. 

 

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