Expanding the role and time of dietitians working in aged care are among key desired outcomes discussed at a recent national forum.
The Maggie Beer Foundation and Department of Health hosted an invitation-only national congress on food, nutrition, and the dining experience in aged care in Sydney last week that aimed to inform future government policy.
The congress of 130 delegates, who attended in person and virtually, brought together key aged care stakeholders to present diverse perspectives and expertise on food and nutrition in aged care.
It heard from a line-up of international and local experts including advanced accredited practising dietitian Julie Dundon, who appeared on a panel discussing nutrition.
“The general vibe at the congress was that dietitians need more time, more hours and we need better skilled staff,” Ms Dundon told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“The congress certainly picked up the point that dietitians need more hours… we need better training for cooks and chefs,” said Ms Dundon, an aged care subject matter lead at professional association Dietitians Australia.
She said it was important that the role of the dietitian be expanded.
“Service providers often think all dietitians do is see people and provide that clinical service, but we can do just so much more than that,” Ms Dundon said.
Dietitians can work with the kitchen staff to complete menu audits, run training, look at the use of nourishing drinks and high energy high protein diets and develop strategies that don’t rely on commercial products, she said.
However, dietitians often don’t get the opportunity to do this work and that’s a major concern, Ms Dundon said.
“It’s a catch-22 because if the dietitians aren’t ever given the opportunity to demonstrate it, then they don’t have the confidence to do it and they don’t bother,” Ms Dundon said.
Mandatory malnutrition screening and menu guidelines are other key outcomes delegates reported they would like to see come out of the congress, she said.
Other topics discussed at the congress include best practice in Australia and around the world, consumer choice and dignity, the importance of food and oral health, swallowing and hydration.
Maggie Beer Foundation chairman Peter Kenny said the need for more training on food in aged care was among other key covered at the congress.
“There was quite a lot of discussion both from the clinical side and the food preparation side that we need to improve the knowledge, training and skill base in aged care.
“We heard examples from some existing providers of outstanding programs that they have been able to put in place and we’d like to find ways to be able to communicate the kind of direction that they’ve taken more widely and help other providers achieve a lift in their food delivery,” Mr Kenny told AAA.
Mr Kenny said he hoped the health department recognised how important food in aged care is.
“The outcome of that is quite wide reaching because it includes the clinical side of food ranging from malnutrition, oral care and swallowing, which are major problems, right through to all of the menu design and production elements and the lack of training that’s available,” he said.
A congress working group reconvened the following day to consolidate the discussions and are in the process of producing a report with key findings for the Department of Health, Mr Kenny said.
The report is due to be handed to the department by the end of next week.
The National Congress on Food, Nutrition and the Dining Experience in Aged Care took place on 18 February at the International Convention Centre, Sydney.
Main image: From left: Vanessa Matthijssen, Julie Dundon, Ngaire Hobbins, Sarah Brown and Julie Reeves (on screen) presenting at the congress.