Older people living in residential care require nutritional plans that cater to their changing physiology
Malnutrition is thought to affect 10% of people over 65 in the UK. The key to getting food and nutrition in care homes right is respecting the diversity of the residents and their care needs.
My organisation provides guidance across our care homes in the UK, but it is crucial for individual homes to tailor their food and nutrition provision to the individual. With this in mind, here are some guidelines for how best to approach food and nutrition in care homes.
Be aware of residents’ changing food and eating patterns as they age
As people age, their appetite may decline, and physiological functions slow down. Long-term medication taken to protect against a variety of health risks may further affect the body’s metabolism, so it becomes increasingly important for sector professionals to ensure residents are receiving all the nutrients they need to sustain general good health. Making sure that residents eat smaller portions of nutrient-rich food throughout the day is essential.
Special attention needs to be paid to residents living with chronic conditions like dementia, as they may require an altered provision of food as their condition progresses – for example, snack stations instead of the typical three main meals a day, finger foods to make eating easier. Food should also be available at night if necessary.
Additionally, because food stimulates the senses of smell, taste, and sight, it is one of the best ways to engage with a resident’s memories. Food in care homes can be modelled on meals of special significance from the resident’s past, bringing memories back to life. If staff join in with mealtimes, this can act as a social prompt and make mealtimes a memorable experience for everyone involved.
Use only high-quality, nutritious ingredients
When developing menus and nutritional programmes, taste should always come first – but tailoring menus to individual nutritional needs is a close second. Homemade soups and stews made with fresh ingredients can be a fantastic source for easy-to-digest meals that facilitate nutrient retention.
However, raw foods should be avoided – stomach acid can decline with age, making it more difficult for older people to digest raw foods. Whatever the menu, real food should take the lead over supplementation, as it will provide residents with all the nutrients they need to lead a healthy life.
Keep pushing the boundaries of food innovation
The care sector is such an exciting workplace at the moment because it is constantly innovating. Nutrition developments in use in care today range fromdementia-friendly crockery, which helps to define the food on the plate and reduce confusion for those residents whose sight and visual processing has been affected; to enriched milk with the essential immune-boosting mineral selenium; to nutritionally analysed smoothies made from fresh ingredients, which can have a highly positive impact on energy levels.
Staying on top of the latest research allows us to continually improve care home residents’ experience of mealtimes, which are always an enjoyable focal point in the day.
Sophie Murray is head of nutrition and hydration at Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare