Better nutrition in aged care is gaining more traction with the Victorian government releasing recommendations to improve food standards in public hospitals and residential facilities after reviewing the state’s food services.
Facilities will be able to draw from the Federal government’s recent reforms which include extra funding to improve food and nutrition provision to aged care residents.
Catering for diversity and appeal
The updated guidelines, following a Royal Commission into Aged Care that found an appalling incidence of malnutrition, include a focus on taste, appearance and variety and catering for more diverse cultures such as kosher or halal food.
It even recommended involving residents in food preparation and growing herbs and vegetables to help stimulate appetites, and noted the importance of enjoyable meals for improved quality of life.
“We know food provides a sense of wellbeing and emotional comfort for patients and residents,” the report says, and “is also an expression of cultural identity that anchors people in times of stress and dislocation.”
It acknowledges the vital role that nutrition plays in recovery and general health.
“Nutritious food is essential for optimal patient and resident treatment and recovery from illness, as well as enhancing wellbeing and positive social experiences. It also plays a key role in the prevention and management of a range of chronic diseases.”
Notwithstanding the significant risk of sarcopenia in older age, other diseases associated with poor nutrition include type 2 diabetes, cancers, obesity, poor oral health and mental health problems.
The report notes that malnutrition for hospitalised patients brings higher risk of pressure injuries, and of greater severity, infections and mortality.
In delivering better nutrition, the report further highlights the importance of making food more accessible through snacks, mealtime support, user-friendly utensils and packaging, finger foods, self-serving and more appealing presentation of texture-modified meals.
Spotlight on snacks and processed meat
Consistent with the Royal Commission’s unveiling of nutritionally impoverished food in aged care, the review found that facilities tended to serve sweet and savoury dry biscuits rather than healthy options such as fruit and yoghurt between meals, highlighting the need for snack standards.
Most facilities did not comply with the state’s voluntary guidelines for healthy vending machines which was another target of the report, including a ground-breaking mandate for zero sugary drinks.
Importantly, they note the handful that had adopted this reported improved rather than reduced profits – often used as an excuse to stick with junk foods in vending machines. Indeed, improved nutrition more broadly can result in substantial cost savings for facilities.
Processed meats, which are listed as a carcinogen, appeared regularly on menus, with half of sites providing them up to three times a week and some even four to seven times a week. As the report notes, the national dietary guidelines recommend limiting these meats, which include salami, sausages and bacon.
Other recommendations include a local food policy, taking orders closer to mealtimes to improve the chance that meals will be eaten, using the cook-freeze method and improving infrastructure to support the policy.