Older Australians living in residential aged care contribute to 30 per cent of all hip fractures, with around two-thirds being malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. With our ageing population, there is a greater need than ever before for cost-effective measures that improve the health and wellbeing of our older people, as well as reducing their healthcare costs.
Ground-breaking research undertaken by the University of Melbourne and Austin Health has linked dietary changes with the prevention of falls and fractures in aged care residents.
The two-year, world first trial tested the impact of providing additional calcium and protein through dairy foods on the risk of fractures and falls in older adults. Sixty residential aged-care facilities in Melbourne, Victoria participated in the trial, encompassing over 7000 residents. Half of the facilities were randomised to include extra dairy food on their menu. The other 30 facilities continued their regular menu, and over two years, the researchers monitored outcomes including falls, fractures and mortality.
When dairy food intake increased from two to three-and-a-half servings per day, there was a 33 per cent reduction in all fractures, a 46 per cent reduction in hip fractures, and an 11 per cent reduction in falls.
Dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are naturally rich in calcium and protein – two essential nutrients that build and maintain healthy bones and muscles. The combination of calcium and protein in dairy foods make them much more effective at improving muscle mass and bone strength than supplements alone.
Aside from its nutritional benefits, dairy is easily incorporated into any menu as it’s delicious, versatile and texturally appropriate. This versatility allows care providers to enhance the quality of meals provided to older adults, ensuring they receive the necessary nutrition in food they enjoy eating.
There is a perception that altering the menu may cost facilities more. However, health economic analyses by Monash University found that the nutritional intervention to reduce the risk of falls and fractures could result in significant cost savings for the health system. The study found that adding an extra 1.5 serves of dairy to aged care menus costs less than a dollar per day and can save up to 66 million dollars from the health care budget. Dairy foods are a great way to get a very high number of nutrients into a single meal.
We now have compelling scientific evidence that can be used to improve the health of high-risk populations by informing future dietary guidelines for our older adults and guiding good clinical practice including aged care and food provision policies.
Top tips for increasing dairy in aged care menus
- Does your current menu provide 3.5 serves of dairy? It’s worth having an Accredited Practicing Dietitian with a background in aged care to review your menu and identify how may serves it provides.
- Aim for 1 serve of dairy at every meal. This might be as simple as adding custard to crumbles or cheese to scones.
- Swap water for milk in porridge, hot chocolate and desserts to provide additional protein
- Engage your Facility and Clinical Managers and provide the information behind why adding extra dairy is so important to the health and wellbeing of your residents.
Do you work in the aged care sector or with older Australians or want to know how you can contribute to change? Please visit our page on healthy ageing with dairy for more information, including delicious dairy-rich recipes tailored for aged care facilities and older adults.
Author contact details
Dr Rivkeh Haryono, Senior Nutrition Scientist