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Anaheim Seniors Have A New Ally: An App That Helps Track Their Well-Being

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Richard Gaza has been delivering meals to Helen and Dorothy for 10 years. (Michelle Faust Raghavan/KPCC)

Meals on Wheels is getting promising results with a new app that provides real-time alerts about clients' health and safety. The Meals on Wheels program Senior Serv in Anaheim is one of 27 delivery services testing the Mobile Meals app.


The app contains a log of where drivers, like 84-year-old volunteer Richard Gaza, go to drop off food for seniors who have trouble getting around.

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After coming in and stocking the fridge with two days of meals, Gaza takes a moment to enter that the meals were delivered.

At that point, he's prompted to note whether there's been a change in the client's condition. If everything is status quo, Gaza moves on, but if something is off, he makes a note.

"Anything that's out of the ordinary; if they're walking wobbly, if they're dizzy," said Gaza.

Drivers can click on one of seven categories in the app, noting changes in health status, self care or safety hazards in the home, said Carter Florence, senior director of strategy and impact at Meals on Wheels America. The app immediately alerts social workers back at Senior Serv, so they can follow up.

The app's prompts make it easy to report a problem with minimal writing while still providing important details, Florence said.

"If you've noticed a new bruise, or maybe some facial drooping or confusion from your client, that would indicate a health alert," she said.

"A lot of times, it could be something as simple as they're not able to get up and move about as much as they were before," said Tracey Hall, director of volunteer services at Senior Serv. "And so maybe they just need a walker, or some kind of device in their bathroom to help them get in and out of the shower."


Meals on Wheels America reports the app has alerted social workers to serious issues such as elder abuse or worsening health, and to simpler problems, like needing more help cleaning the home.

Preliminary research on the Mobile Meals app calls it "a feasible approach" that could "prevent further decline and improve quality of life."

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"If they can pick up on something that might otherwise have gone unnoticed, it has the potential to prevent a whole cascade of adverse health events and avoidable interactions with the health care system," said Kali Thomas, a Brown University researcher who has studied how Meals on Wheels programs improve older adults' health.

Even before the development of the app, Thomas' research had shown adults who get meal deliveries are less likely to be lonely, report falls or be hospitalized.

Meals on Wheels has been around since the 1950s, and deliveries have long included a welfare check.

"Nobody sees our seniors. Our homebound seniors are hidden behind closed doors," said Hall.

She points out that for many homebound adults, their meal delivery driver is the only person they interact with regularly. The drivers become the "eyes and ears" that will notice if a health condition is getting worse or an elder is otherwise in jeopardy.

The point of the Mobile Meals app is to streamline and standardize the process and make sure there's follow-up if the volunteer or professional driver senses anything is amiss.

Helen, 92, and Dorothy, 101, say they enjoy most of the food deliveries they get, except the spinach. (Michelle Faust Raghavan/LAist)


Richard Gaza has been climbing the steps to stock the fridge for sisters Helen, 92, and Dorothy, 101, every Monday for 10 years.

We were granted an interview with the sisters on the condition that we not publish their last names.

"Richard has been a blessing to us in a lot of ways. Even his taking time to talk with us sometimes when we're kind of low," said Dorothy.

The sisters, who live together in Anaheim, said they appreciate that Gaza spends extra time chatting with them, opening bottles, and helping them replace the batteries in their hearing aids.

"When you don't get out and do stuff, you become isolated. And [the volunteers] bring us out of that," said Helen.

Listen to a version of this story here.

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