Lorraine Dufour Lorraine is a freelance Canadian copywriter for sustainable businesses.

A Grim Reality: How Food Insecurity Accelerates Cognitive Decline in Older Adults

4 min read

older adult with hands clasped; cognitive decline among older adults

Most people work their whole lives and are used to a certain level of independence because of that. No one wants to become a burden as they age.

Let’s face it, it’s no secret that getting old is hard enough as it is. Throw in a lower income, health issues, and food insecurity, and the effects can compound.

Food insecurity among older adults is a complex issue with many root causes and outcomes. It not only affects those suffering from a lack of healthy food, but it also affects society as a whole. 

As the population ages, so too do the problems – and costs – associated with caring for those who can no longer care for themselves. And let’s not forget the fact that in a few short years, there will be more people aged 65 and older than ever before in our history.1

Add to that, the results of a newly published study on cognitive decline and aging. It suggests that food insecurity is speeding up that decline.

This news gives us more reason than ever to find ways to increase food security and access for older adults – before the need increases beyond our control.

Our suggestion? Mobile farmers’ markets. They’re a popular tool among community organizations and seniors that make healthy food access easy and affordable.

The Consequences of Food Insecurity Among Older Adults

an older woman standing in a doorway, looking outward; food insecurity among older adults

Various segments of society suffer from a lack of access to affordable healthy food. For those aged 65 and older, food insecurity has profound implications.

Many seniors suffer from chronic medical conditions. Improper nutrition can make these problems worse. Because chronic illnesses are the leading cause of healthcare costs in the US,2 older adults need the chance to access the foods that will nourish their bodies and minds.

There are over 54 million adults aged 65 or older in the US.3 In 2020, approximately 1 in 15 seniors were considered food insecure.4

Many of them live on their own. They face greater difficulties getting around, and often there’s no one there to help. Some end up skipping meals because they can’t get to the nearest grocery store.

Another common problem facing many older adults is low income. With almost 6 million living below the poverty line,5 sometimes the only meal options are unhealthy, processed foods. They’re usually cheaper and more accessible.

The lack of nutritious foods means millions of older adults are missing out on vital nutrients they need to stay healthy and independent for as long as possible.

Poverty, chronic illness, and food insecurity are all linked to shorter life spans. In the last few years, life expectancy in the US has been trending downward.6

Although there are a lot of factors by which life expectancy is affected, the fact that we’re now seeing a downturn is very troubling. This is not the direction we should be headed.

Cognitive Decline and Aging

older woman's face as seen through the the bent arm of another person; cognitive decline and again

Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic illness that most people associate with cognitive decline. When you picture someone with Alzheimer’s you probably picture an older adult.

Even though cognitive decline is more common the older you get, it isn’t necessarily a normal part of aging. It usually arises because of other conditions.

Now we know that food insecurity might be one of those conditions. A study recently published in The Journal of Nutrition found that food-insecure older adults were the equivalent of 3.8 years older than those who are food secure.7

Because cognitive decline can negatively impact a person’s independence, you can see how someone who is suffering from poor health and food insecurity can deteriorate.

Being food insecure is stressful in itself, which the study points out, can lead to further cognitive decline.

How SNAP Participation Impacts Your Health

Perhaps the more unexpected result this study found was the link between SNAP participation and the rate of cognitive decline among the food insecure.

Seniors who were SNAP eligible but not participating were the equivalent of 4.5 years older than SNAP participants.

These findings highlight that participating in SNAP appeared to have a positive effect on brain health. The study points out that more research is needed to examine how SNAP participation seemed to affect cognitive function.

You already know that SNAP participation improves people’s health. You might even be aware that SNAP reduces food insecurity by about 30%.8 And now we have another reason to encourage people to enroll in SNAP: brain function.

Increasing Access to Produce Is Essential

an older woman smiling and holding a piece of fruit in outstretched hands;

Those who experience food insecurity don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables.9 They’re more expensive and aren’t readily available in places like convenience stores, where food is the cheapest.

When people have to decide between buying food or paying bills, some are forced to skip meals so they can keep the lights on or their house warm.

But those colorful fruits and veggies give you a lot of the nutrients your body (and brain) need to stay healthy. So, it’s a no-brainer that providing seniors with easier access to affordable produce is vital.

Encouraging SNAP participation is one way to do that. It can help reduce the economic burden associated with food insecurity. There’s also physical access to healthy food to take into consideration, so let’s discuss that too.

Mobile Farmers’ Markets: A Fresh Solution

a mobile farmers' market display; fruits and vegetables on display

Food security takes into account the economic and physical access to a sufficient amount of good quality, healthy food. Older adults are one demographic where being able to physically access healthy food is of particular concern.

Mobility is a problem for countless seniors. This is due to physical or health limitations and because many live alone. It can leave them feeling isolated. And it can make it hard for them to get the food they need to stay healthy and independent for as long as possible.

But we have a solution for that. Why not bring fresh produce to them instead?

Mobile markets are the ideal means for removing physical barriers to accessing healthy foods. They bring a farmers’ market full of colorful fruits and vegetables where older adults live, work, and congregate.

Did you know The Farmers’ Truck Mobile Market Vehicle is compliant with The Americans with Disabilities Act10 (ADA) standards? Yes, it’s true! This allows you to create a safe and inclusive shopping environment for your older customers.

Places of worship, older adult living complexes, hospitals, and seniors centers provide the perfect locations for mobile markets to set up shop.

Older adults no longer have to worry about finding a safe way to get to the grocery store or wonder if they’ll have healthy food for their next meal.

Many mobile market operators accept SNAP payments as well. And some even assist with SNAP enrolment.

Mobile markets offer social benefits too. They give older adults a safe space to gather, socialize, and check in with each other or other members of their community.

To further explore how mobile markets are improving food insecurity among older adults, check out our article: “Seniors’ Food Insecurity: 4 Ways Mobile Farmers’ Markets Can Ease This Growing Problem”.

Taking Action to Help the Vulnerable

By ensuring food security and SNAP participation, you can help slow down cognitive decline in our aging population.

Are you looking for an innovative way to help seniors in your community live independently and stay healthier longer?

Contact The Farmers’ Truck today about operating your own mobile market. You’ll be joining dozens of other organizations across the country that are transforming lives too.


  1. The Graying of America: More Older Adults Than Kids by 2035.
  2. Health and Economic Costs of Chronic Diseases | CDC.
  3. Promoting Health for Older Adults | CDC
  4. The State of Senior Hunger | Feeding America
  5. Poverty in the United States: 2021
  6. Why life expectancy in the US is falling – Harvard Health
  7. Science Direct Article
  8. SNAP Is Linked With Improved Health Outcomes and Lower Health Care Costs.
  9. Food insecurity and dietary quality in US adults and children: a systematic review
  10. ADA.gov
Lorraine Dufour Lorraine is a freelance Canadian copywriter for sustainable businesses.

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