The aged care sector must start using evidence-based and industry backed solutions to improve residents’ nutrition and dining experience, an industry conference on ageing research has heard.

The Lantern Project founder and director Dr Cherie Hugo shared insights on building and sustaining a community of practice to improve food and nutrition in aged care at the Australian Association of Gerontology Conference on Thursday.

She said the aged care sector has enough evidence available from research and industry co-design to solve the issues related to food and nutrition.

“We have solutions available. We just need agreement to act and support to grow and increase the impact so that this translates to outcomes across the industry,” Dr Hugo told the 2021 AAG Conference.

“The Lantern Project today urges industry leaders… and the government to stop talking just about the issues and focusing on the problem and start using evidence-based, industry co-designed solutions, rather than resorting to options with little substance.”

Dr Hugo used the analogy of a bull elephant in a China shop to describe the current state of the sector.

“Malnutrition has been wreaking havoc for decades and the system continues to waste billions each year on the broken China rather than dealing with the elephant,” she said.

“This broken China plays out as millions spent on falls related to malnutrition, billions on pressure injuries, hospital admissions, medications and aged care funding that goes largely towards a low-quality high-cost system that really needs to change. The fact is, these costs directly relate to food and nutrition.”

Dr Cherie Hugo presenting at the 2021 AAG Conference

Malnutrition in aged care affects all stakeholders, starting with aged care residents who have a lower quality of life, poor health outcomes and reduced independence, Dr Hugo said.

“Government loses out through reputational damage, hospital admissions, Medicare costs, medications and aged care funding. Around $9 billion dollars is paid to support a low-quality reactive sickness model band-aid approach that we’re currently using rather than dealing with the elephant – the underlying cause.

“Providers lose out with malnutrition through reputational damage… We know it takes two-to-three times longer to care for a resident who is malnourished than one who is nourished.” she said.

Evidence-based approaches

More than 1,500 aged care stakeholders have participated in The Lantern Project since it was launched in 2013 including allied health professionals, aged care CEOs, clinical and catering managers, cooks, care workers, gardeners, researchers, resident advocates as well as representatives from peak bodies, the health department and quality and safety commission.  

Dr Hugo presented several of the evidence-based and industry co-designed solutions the Lantern Project has developed in this time including the five-star rating tool Epicure.

“Epicure is a diagnostic tool that provides laser sharp evidence and solutions to improve the clinical outcomes and quality of life aged care residents whilst providing assurance, improved efficiencies and recognition for providers that are really standing out and doing well,” Dr Hugo said.

Other initiatives include the Explore App, which provides aged care consumers a voice on their food and dining experience to identify key priorities for improvement, and the Transition Off Supplements program to address malnutrition and educate staff.

“It’s a specific targeted program that we’ve measured through research to drop malnutrition by around 44 per cent in three months, as well as improve quality of life and provide cost savings,” Dr Hugo said.

The 2021 AAG Conference took place on 9 -12 November.

Australian Ageing Agenda is a media partner of the AAG.

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