Food Insecurity and Signs of Need

with Jennifer Adams,

NaviGuide, United Church Homes

This week on Ask a NaviGuide, host Michael Hughes chats with Jennifer Adams, one of our NaviGuides at United Church Homes. During this conversation, Mike and Jennifer talk about food insecurities with the elderly including topics such as issues of malnourishment, anorexia of aging, the importance of access to healthy food options, causes of food insecurities, and more.
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Highlights from this week’s conversation include:

  • Jennifer’s work as a NaviGuide and her passion for caring for those with food insecurities (1:13)
  • Addressing issues of malnourishment (3:33)
  • Food is medicine (5:22)
  • The importance of access to healthy food options (8:12)
  • Causes of food insecurities (12:16)
  • Anorexia of aging (18:29)


Abundant Aging is a podcast series presented by United Church Homes. These shows offer ideas, information, and inspiration on how to improve our lives as we grow older. To learn more and to subscribe to the show, visit


Michael Hughes 00:07
Hi, and welcome to Ask a NaviGuide, which is part of the Abundant Aging Podcast Series. I’m Mike, your host, and on the show we tackle subjects in aging and family caregiving, which can be stressful to work through. We do this with tips and advice from United Church Homes NaviGuide team, our NaviGuides have decades of experience helping family work through issues and aging. And we hope that what we share on this show will help everyone everywhere, age with abundance. And today we’re lucky to have our NaviGuide Jennifer with us who will help us to understand the world of food, and more specifically, insecurity. We have a lot of experience dealing with food insecurity, issues with residents in our affordable housing, and also really just in general, as we engage and we help families work through stressful issues and intersections in aging and health. So glad to have you have your Jennifer. And before we get into it, I just got to read this statement. The opinions shared in this podcast are those of our amazing NaviGuides and host and are not meant to convey nor take the place of any clinical legal or other professional advice. Awesome. So, Jennifer, thank you for being here. First of all, can you tell us a little bit about your roles as a NaviGuide where you’re based? The people that you engage with every day, that sort of thing?

Jennifer Adams 01:32
Sure. So I work in northern Indiana in affordable housing communities. And I serve about close to 80 people in my communities. These are for older adults, age 62 and older, low income individuals.

Michael Hughes 01:56
Gotcha. And you said Northern Indiana, are there any specific counties that you work with?

Jennifer Adams 02:00
Yes, I work in Marshall County, Indiana, and Elkhart County, Indiana.

Michael Hughes 02:05
Got it. And I’m saying that, because we’re gonna be talking about, you know, food insecurity and programming in general, but because your experience is particular to that part of our country, I just want listeners in that area to kind of perk up a little bit. And they may find, you know, some things that they can, you know, take advantage of there. So, you know, again, we’ve said, “Have you had a lot of experience with food programs, you’ve dealt with residents and people in the community that are food insecure?” I just want to kind of start by, you know, what’s your passion here? I mean, it seems like you have a lot of knowledge, I mean, is this something that you have a particular affinity for?

Jennifer Adams 02:45
I do, actually, just from the individuals that I work with, when they come in to see me, I can often see at first that a lot of their basic needs are not met. Food is often one of those needs. So in order to be successful overall I need to make sure that I’m meeting those physiological needs before I can start working on some deeper issues. Because how can we think that we’re going to get someone to start getting their medical care taken care of, or building strong social relationships, if all of their energy is spent trying to figure out where their next meal comes from? It’s ridiculous to think that I can meet those deeper needs, if I’m not assisting them with meeting those basic needs.

Michael Hughes 03:38
Yeah, I mean, it all seeing our need for housing, our need for good food, our need for, you know, people in our lives that can help us navigate and find these things. And when I think about food insecurity, I mean, we think about hunger. But, I mean, there’s a whole nother side to this in terms of malnutrition, right? I mean, being malnourished comes with a whole host of risks.

Jennifer Adams 04:07
That’s correct. So, when we talk about food, we often talk about hunger and things of that nature, but it goes a little bit deeper, it does go into malnutrition. Malnutrition can be associated with not having enough to eat. So that’s where we will see hunger, but it can also be caused by a poor diet or not eating the proper foods. Malnutrition takes place when we have nutrient deficiencies. So one of the major concerns is the micronutrient deficiencies. Unfortunately, micronutrient deficiencies are often overlooked, especially when we’re looking at the senior population. Mike micronutrients are things like zinc, iron, vitamin D, magnesium, and statistically 50% of Americans are magnesium deficient. And then another 70% of older adults are vitamin D deficient. And then this will make sense because the two kinds of work together. Micronutrient deficiency causes chronic diseases like osteoporosis, thyroid deficiency, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease. And these are things that we see more often when we’re talking about older adults.

Michael Hughes 05:28
Yeah, I mean, the whole idea of food is medicine. Right? I mean, you know, people sort of look at, you know, the prescription medicine we have, but it’s all part of that, I guess, healthy lifestyle, but healthy for you, you know, I mean, people are different sizes, shapes, what have you, but I would guess, like, the better potential for you to be, you know, for your those chronic conditions. It’s not just taking that pill, right, it’s getting more of those nutrients, it’s getting more of those vitamins from fruit from healthy food.

Jennifer Adams 05:59
That’s correct. You know, often we want to just add another medication. And then we’re seeing that people don’t experience side effects of those medications. And then we’re adding more medications to treat those side effects, when often it could just be an issue of, you know, being malnourished. And that’s why we’re seeing some of the issues to begin with, or those are the reasons that we’re seeing the chronic illnesses, because of them simply being nourished. We see the declines in the activities of daily living. So is it more difficult to get up and walk or, you know, you can experience compromised immune function, or physical decline. So is there an increase of illness or disease, these can be all signs of being malnourished, they may experience weight loss, but it’s important to remember once again, that being malnourished has nothing to do with the way it has everything to do with what we’re putting into our bodies.

Michael Hughes 07:06
We can talk about kind of, you know, the signs of malnutrition, we’ve talked about energy, you know, that sort of thing. I imagine that, you know, if a new resident comes into, you know, a building where you serve, or what have you, or even just, you know, residents that you deal with every single day, you might see people maybe gradually fall into malnutrition, or they may be, you know, considered malnourished from the start, right?

Jennifer Adams 07:33
That’s correct. So, sometimes we see people that, you know, we know, have difficulty maybe preparing meals or getting to places to get the proper foods or even their, their income is too low to even purchase the proper foods. So we know that there’s a high likelihood that they’re malnourished, just not hungry, but malnourished. We also see different things take place as we age, as far as you know, how hunger, how we experience hunger as we age, so people don’t maybe feel hungry. And so they’re not eating properly, because they simply don’t feel that sense.

Michael Hughes 08:18
So Jennifer, I know that, you know, you deal with a lot of folks in our buildings. And you know, you had more than one person that you referred to, you know, food programs and things like that. And on another episode, we want to get into the types of programs that are out there. But have you ever been able to kind of draw a line for the benefits of good healthy food to somebody that you have? Maybe had started out without those resources? And then maybe you made some connections? And what sort of changes do you see when people do have access to healthy food sources?

Jennifer Adams 08:50
Well, for me personally, with the residents and with the individuals that I work with, we can often see a change in just their overall behaviors and their health. So someone that comes in, and we know that they’ve maybe been struggling with, with food insecurity, and then we put them in place with some of these other programs that you know, that I offer, in the buildings that I work in. So one, we can see a decrease or an increase in their emotional state of mind, I guess, because they’re no longer worried about trying to find food or where they’re going to get food or how they’re going to pay for yes. So that in itself is a plus. So when we feel better, when we’re emotional, when our mental state is better, we are just overall, you know, we’re just better overall because we know that our mental state will also affect our physical well being. So we see that first of all, of all, I think that’s probably one of the first things that we see is that the mental state of mind changes that worry is just taken away. When they’re starting to eat more healthily, and they actually have access to food, then, of course, we can see some really great physical changes. I mean, there’s been people that have come in. And I mean, from just looking at them, you know that they are malnourished, you know that they have not been eating enough or properly. And so we put these things in place for them, we offer food, or, you know, they gain access to food that is healthier, they are getting proteins, they’re getting fruits and vegetables and things of that nature, you just see an overall physical change. And some people are very, I mean, just extremely overweight, or underweight. I mean, when they come in, and you just, you know, sometimes you just don’t even understand, you can’t figure out how they’re even up and walking. That’s how malnourished you can tell them to be. So when they start participating in some of the food programs that are offered, and you know, they’re eating a healthy meal, they’re eating healthier snacks, because that’s what they’re getting. And you can see that physical change, they’re moving better there. They just, you know, speaking of their mental health, you know, you can see that change in their whole, just in everything about them. But yeah, you can see changes in their physical activities, you know, and how it’s easier for them to walk, how they have more stamina, when they’re moving. You know, they don’t have to sit down after you know, just, you know, 20 feet away, they can walk further there, they just have a lot more energy, that that’s some of the first signs

Michael Hughes 11:49
I mean, that makes you feel pretty good, right to kind of actually be able to see that change day after day.

Jennifer Adams 11:55
It does. It’s, it’s exciting, when it’s so exciting to see this. And that changes on people, you know, when they come into our buildings, and you know, just to see just this sense of relief, really, to them. You know, that’s exciting to see that. And then when we add those physical changes, and, you know, improvements for them. Yeah, it’s really exciting to see that.

Michael Hughes 12:21
I mean, I don’t think anybody wakes up in the morning and says, I’m going to be food safe by choice, right? I mean, when you look at everybody coming in, I mean, it’s not just one thing that may cause them to be food insecure. It may be a range of things, but I know that you’re speaking specifically to the markets that you deal with in northern Indiana. But I got to thinking that there may be some more universals here. But, I mean, is there just one big cause of it, food insecurity in your area of the country? What have you seen? Well,

Jennifer Adams 12:51
There are actually a lot of different things that can cause food insecurity. One of the major issues is lack of money. Some older adults live on $1,000 A month or less, this income makes it very difficult to meet their basic needs, such as shelter, food, or at least healthy foods, you know, so they often sacrifice food, in order to make those, you know, ends meet. And then when we add in the current cost of food, and even food shortages, that just makes it even more difficult. And then, you know, when the cost of food is going up. And you know, we’re seeing inflation, then we also see decreases of donations to the pantries and that, that just leaves older adults who utilize these services with a greater likelihood of food insecurity. Another cause of food insecurity is medication cost. We have to recognize that we often hear about older adults that have to choose between purchasing food and medication. And though, you know, I do work with older adults, but prior to becoming a NaviGuide, I never truly understood that was a real issue. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand how insurance works, and that companies can change their formularies annually, meaning they can change how they are going to pay for your medications. And so this can mean a huge change from what you’re paying in December to what your out of pocket expenses are going to be in January, and this happens very often.

Michael Hughes 14:44
I just want to just call that out too, because I know on previous episodes, especially with our navigation, Robin, you know, we talked about how you can get on let’s say a new Medicare Advantage plan and they could offer some interesting benefits for you. But you may not ask about how your co pays for medication may go up or be affected and all that. So just a call out point that you absolutely always have to ask about that probably one of the first questions you’re gonna have, I bet, you know, in your situation, you might help with that guidance. Or maybe you didn’t say that, that traditional Medicare would be better for you, you know,

Jennifer Adams 15:26
yeah, then that’s true. And, you know, it’s really important that people try to understand what their insurance is offering them. And I know that there’s other podcasts on this, go back and watch those, you’re going to gain some great information on that. But anyway, unfortunately, sometimes Medicare, the Medicare program, is difficult to understand. And people just are not educated on how that all works. And so we just see big surprises in January. The most important thing to mention here is that it is so important that you review your insurance annually. Whether you like your insurance, or you like your agent, none of that matters, because your insurance can make changes so they can pay today and tomorrow. So make sure that you’re reviewing those insurances. And then also, the final thing that I see with food insecurity is simply lack of transportation, or having mobility issues that prevent people from getting to the stores, or the pantries.

Michael Hughes 16:37
Or I guess even making the meals period, right, yeah, it’s more convenient to open a bag of chips, than putting together a healthy meal for yourself, sometimes. That’s the case with me, when I’m feeling lazy, yeah.

Jennifer Adams 16:52
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. You know, that’s one of the things so when people have mobility issues, and so they can’t stand and prepare healthy meals, then they’re gonna, they’re gonna seek out convenience. And one of the things that I hear a lot from the people that I serve is that, you know, they just don’t want to make a whole meal for one person. So then they’re grabbing those convenience items as well, which means Yeah, they are not going to get the nutrients they need to really help their body. So yeah, it’s easy to pull that bag of chips out of the fridge or the cupboard, and eat that. So, you know, we need to guide people towards maybe healthier choices that are, you know, not just push people into these big meals. But let’s look at some healthier choices. They are also kind of convenient for them as well.

Michael Hughes 17:45
Awesome. Well, and I know that there’s a lot of resources out there, and I know that another one of our podcasts, we’re gonna be going through each of those resources. But I mean, I guess, I mean, I know I would feel so good if I found someone that maybe didn’t even know that these resources existed, and then suddenly, you know, they’re more at their fingertips than I thought. And then that’s what that’s one of the things you do, I guess, every day, every week, at least once a month. But, yeah, I mean, I know that this is just something you encounter so often, and just so thankful that you’re able to be there for residents, and help them make these positive changes. I think it’s just really wonderful. You know, Jennifer, just while we’re on this topic of thinking about the signs of malnutrition, this you know, what may cause malnutrition and food insecurity, anything else you’d like to share before we move on to our next episode?

Jennifer Adams 18:48
Yeah, I just want to touch on when I was discussing the kind of, you know, the way that we feel hunger as we age, there’s actually a technical term for that. And, you know, it kind of happens as we age, just called the anorexia of aging, that’s a real medical thing. And this affects between 15 and 30% of older adults. And it’s associated with the physical changes that take place as we age like, vision, taste, and smell. So those senses kind of drive us towards food and our desire to eat. And as we all know, those decline as we age. Another issue with that is that our saliva production decreases as well. And then we can have those side effects of medications, which can cause nausea and constipation. And then who doesn’t want to eat when you’re experiencing those things? And then, you know, issues, dental issues we can’t eat if our teeth

Michael Hughes 19:58
aren’t good and right. We’ve never even talked About the dental issues. Yeah.

Jennifer Adams 20:01
Yes. And unfortunately, you know, that’s something that’s often not covered under Medicare. But it’s a huge issue. People don’t want to eat or can’t eat because their mouth hurts, or they simply don’t have teeth. They don’t want to participate in some of the congregate programs because they’re embarrassed. This all leads to food insecurity. And then people are less likely to eat when they’re feeling lonely. I mean, I want to eat a meal alone day in and day out. So, you know, I just wanted to talk, discuss the anorexia of aging. Because honestly, they say that it’s a they call it anorexia of aging, but it really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with aging. You know, we chalk everything up to aging. We hear that all the time. Well, let’s just, it’s just part of aging. Look, that’s not true. It’s in it’s dangerous for us to continue to say that, because most of these symptoms that we’re seeing in this anorexia of aging are fixable, you know,

Michael Hughes 21:13
right. Right. Yeah. So, I mean, I’ve never heard the term before, and I’m just so glad that you brought it to my attention. It’s really been. And so even just beyond getting somebody connected to food, I mean, you’re doing a lot more like just even just calling this to people’s attention about what medication to do, or, or even the dental stuff, we I think we have to do a podcast session on dental and, and how we work around, you know, allowing people to just simply enjoy the food that they’re eating a little bit more, right?

Jennifer Adams 21:49
That’s right. I mean, so if we’re seeing a decrease in maybe some of our senses, like smell and taste there, and that is a part of aging, you know, our vision declines. That’s part of aging, it’s a fifth fixable.

Michael Hughes 22:06
Tell me about it, yeah.

Jennifer Adams 22:09
But there are things that we can do. So if our taste buds aren’t working as well, you know, we can add spices to the food to increase the flavors, we can investigate our medications, if they’re causing certain side effects, and maybe have those adjusted, your teeth can be fixed, you know, there’s programs out there to help with those type of things. So basically, you know, the bottom line is that malnutrition is not inevitable. There’s plenty of programs that can help with food insecurity, there’s plenty of things we can do to combat malnutrition, you know, and defeat these barriers that are kind of adding to that.

Michael Hughes 22:59
And again, for our listeners, we will be releasing or have a podcast on that. And then your future with Jennifer’s knowledge, but lots to say here, lots of causes, I hope that you, our listeners, are a little bit more aware of the types of root causes that could cause that. I mean, seriously, I mean, not even in my show notes, but the idea of dental and the changes in sensation, and you know, just one’s relationships with food, and how it changes over time as we age. So thank you for sharing that. And thank you, our listener, for listening to this episode of Ask an ABA Guide, which is a part of the abundance agent podcast series, brought to you by United Church homes. If you liked this week’s show, please like, share and subscribe. I always have to say that so we can bring you more of this great content and where do you find us? You can find us on youtube United Church homes. You can find every episode of this podcast and our other podcast series including the art of aging at abundant aging For more information about the UCH NaviGuide program, please visit And for more information about United Church Homes you can find us at Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time!