An aged care dietitian is urging residential aged care providers to add more focus on mealtimes to ensure residents maintain adequate nutrition during social distancing and isolation measures.
The Lantern Project founder and dietitian Dr Cherie Hugo said malnutrition among aged care residents could increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We already have across the nation a 50 per cent rate of malnutrition and with COVID-19, my concern is that we’re going to have a further increase,” Dr Hugo told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“As much as we’re protecting residents from increased risk of exposure and infection, we may in fact be increasing their risk of malnutrition and all of the detrimental effects that come with it, including death,” she said.
Social isolation and loneliness can impact food intake, Dr Hugo said.
“We know when residents eat together in good company, they eat more,” she said.
Dr Hugo said aged care homes needed to be speak with allied health professionals to ensure meals were adequate for each resident.
“My advice would certainly be to ensure that you’re working with your allied health professionals, particularly dietitians and speech pathologists to ensure that your food and meal service is appropriate at this time.
“Meals should be something that brightens a resident’s day and engages conversation and enjoyment,” she said.
Providers should also talk with all facility staff to ensure they are educated about the importance of food intake, Dr Hugo said.
“Everyone is responsible for observing if a resident isn’t eating and then identifying why they are not eating and acting on it, rather than just allowing a mealtime to pass,” she said.
“It’s about being on higher alert.”
Tips to encourage food intake
The Lantern Project began releasing tips for facilities [when] as part of a campaign to help them support residents’ nutrition during the pandemic.
It has released 14 tips to date, which have now been compiled into a single poster and a short video showing aged care providers how to reduce the risk of malnutrition.
The Lantern Lockdown Tips include simple strategies that aged care facilities can implement such as looking for opportunities to still have connections during mealtimes, encouraging virtual intergenerational connections and offering learning opportunities for residents.
Other tips include offering fruit smoothies to residents during mid-meals and encouraging families to video call when residents are eating to share mealtimes.
The tips aim to inspire aged care homes to employ simple steps to improve food intake and spark new ideas to reduce the risk of malnutrition, Dr Hugo said.
“They’re not complicated and some of them seem blatantly simple.
It’s about bringing them to the forefront and continuing to remind homes and also family members of loved ones that there are many ways of reducing risk right now with some of these simple strategies,” she said.
“There are a lot of strategies that are pretty low cost and that are achievable. It can make quite a difference in connecting residents and reducing that social isolation and malnutrition risk.”
There are more tips coming soon, Dr Hugo said.
The tips and video are available on The Lantern Project’s Facebook page.