Things are looking up for aged care. Nudging retirement and refusing to eat slop, baby boomers are spurring action.
Celebrity chef Maggie Beer is a recent inspirational voice and champion for healthier food that tastes good. Her foundation is dedicated to training cooks and chefs in aged care to prepare meals driven by “superfoods” like chickpeas, lentils and kale.
Director of Nutrition Professionals Australia, Anne Schneyder, has laid down the gauntlet for Aged Care Accreditation Standards in nutrition and hydration, saying “access to adequate food and nutrition in a form that is enjoyable … is a fundamental right for all residents in our aged care homes.”
Foodservice Australia is holding an aged care summit in May this year to present stakeholders with the “the latest trends and techniques” in meal preparation.
Prioritising good food
A key issue that needs to be addressed is prioritising food in aged care budgets.
Appalling statistics have revealed more money is spent on food for Australian prisoners than pensioners. Our spend of $6.08 per resident per day puts us behind Europe, the US and Canada, whose food budget has increased as ours decreased. AMA president Michael Gannon described this as a “national disgrace.”
Half the surveyed aged-care residents suffered malnutrition – a major risk factor for sarcopenia and related issues like increased risk of falls, fractures, pressure injuries, poor quality of life and hospitalisation.
The paradox is that malnutrition costs money. So it’s really a no-brainer to invest in good food. Indeed, evidence suggests spending on quality care can improve savings – with improved quality of life a welcome by-product.
Delivering good nutrition
Protein and energy are two key essentials for older people with poor appetite, to avoid loss of muscle mass and strength. A good variety of fresh produce from all food groups supplies the nutrients needed for optimal health and immunity.
Various factors need to be considered when providing food in aged care, including dentition, swallowing, dexterity, reduced taste, smell and appetite, personal preferences and providing choice. Some may have allergies or special diets, or need staff member assistance to eat.
These and other considerations need to be factored into Residential Aged Care Accreditation standards. The Dietitian’s Association of Australia identified a need for guidelines to include “robust nursing and food systems to implement care plans,” and assessors involved in accreditation processes with in-depth knowledge of nutrition and food service delivery.
Ultimately, if meals and food choices are appealing, older people are more likely to eat. The environment is also important. Cooking smells, communal eating, pleasant, relaxed surroundings and attractive food presentation can all stimulate appetite.
Former chef Peter Morgan-Jones, Executive Chef and Food Ambassador at HammondCare, challenged himself to whip up a tasty meal for a man suffering early dementia. He had limited swallowing ability and had been restricted to pureed food for 18 months.
He craved baked beans, scrambled eggs and crispy bacon. And he got it – homemade Boston baked beans in a puree batter, pureed scrambled eggs and crispy bacon ground into dust. He was “overjoyed.”
As Maggie Beer says, “It’s all about giving equal measures of pleasure and nutrition. Without pleasure, what is there in life?”