Just two-thirds of surveyed aged care residents say they always have a choice of food, and only a quarter think their meals are always tasty, a new study shows.
The Flinders University research surveyed 400 residents from 20 aged care homes in South Australia about their perceptions of the facility’s food services in the context of the Aged Care Quality Standards.
Under Standard 4, aged care providers must provide safe and effective services and supports for daily living that optimise independence, health and wellbeing. That includes offering a variety of suitable quality and quantity.
The study found that most aged care residents felt they had choice in what they ate all of the time (66 per cent) or most of the time (14 per cent) but they were less positive about receiving a variety of food every day all of the time (44 per cent) or most of the time (35 per cent).
Around a quarter of residents said their meals looked appetising all of the time (28 per cent) while 44 per cent agreed it looked appetising most of the time and a similar number said their food tasted good all of the time (25 per cent) or most of the time (47 per cent).
The majority of residents said staff are always friendly and polite when serving food (73 per cent) and willing to help cut food when required (91 per cent).
And while most residents also felt they had enough time to finish their food all the time (85 per cent), only a third say their provider can meet their meal preferences all the time (33 per cent).
Lead researcher Morgan Pankhurst said the results show that aged care homes are performing better in areas related to the dining environment than in providing choice and meeting residents’ preferences.
“Residents are relatively happy with the dining environment and they’re happy with the amount of assistance and support that staff members are giving them at mealtimes,” Ms Pankhurst told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“Homes were quite inconsistent in areas related to choice and variety towards individualising the menu and meeting resident preferences.
“They can be hit and miss there. Some residents felt that they were doing a good job, others felt that they just weren’t,” said Ms Pankhurst, an accredited practising dietitian and PhD candidate at Flinders University.
Ms Pankhurst will present the findings of her research at the Australian Association of Gerontology Conference later this month, where she will also highlight those at odd with the standards.
“The standards say that residents should have a say in the timing of their meals and there should be flexibility and yet 91 per cent said that they don’t have any choice about when they can eat their meals. So there is a mismatch there.”
Ms Pankhurst said aged care providers need to work with residents to understand their preferences and expectations.
“It highlights for us as researchers the need to work with homes to help them figure out how they can improve their food systems and what they’re offering to residents,” she said.
“It’s not necessarily about spending more money ,” Ms Pankurst said.
Ms Pankhurst said the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s final report should also provide insights into improving food services.
The AAG Conference is taking place as a virtual event on 18 – 20 November.
Australian Ageing Agenda is a media partner of the AAG.