A group of Queensland researchers have developed a successful nursing home intervention program in response to a study that found half of all residents are malnourished.

The Queensland University of Technology project initially assessed the nutrition status of 350 residential aged care clients in eight facilities. Four fifths of them were classified as high care.

Just over 50 per cent of residents were well nourished but 43.1 per cent were moderately malnourished and 6.4 per cent were severely malnourished.

Poor nutrition was more common among residents with higher level needs and those aged over 90.

The report in the Australasian Journal of Ageing said less than a fifth (17.8 per cent) of residents deemed to be malnourished had seen a dietician in the previous six months and only 29.2 per cent were receiving dietary supplements.

Research team member, Adjunct Associate Professor Judy Bauer, said that while she was not surprised by the initial findings, it was still an appalling state of affairs.

“We see a lot of attention given to the prevalence of obesity, but the fact is that malnutrition in residential aged care facilities is a huge issue,” she said.

“It can of course be caused by a number of factors such as the ageing process impacting on appetite, taste and smell, a decline in functional ability making feeding difficult, or swallowing problems, but also, of course, a lack of awareness and attention to nutrition care.”

The Commonwealth Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot also commented on the results, describing them as “disturbing”.

“Nursing home operators have a legal and moral obligation to provide proper care for nursing home residents,” she said in a statement.

“There are guidelines on food, nutrition, hydration and how to encourage residents to eat and drink.”

The project’s second phase involved focused on increasing awareness about residents’ nutritional needs and implementing nutrition action plans.

“The facilities should be congratulated because they have made a tremendous effort to improve nutrition care by nominating nutrition champions to increase staff awareness, ensuring residents are weighed regularly and improving overall management of nutrition care,” said Professor Bauer.

“This has really resulted in better outcomes for all involved.”

Professor Bauer said that to be effective, nutrition programs in aged care need to be systematic, multidisciplinary and supported by comprehensive staff education.

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