Of all the changes that come with aging, the need for good food is arguably one of the most important – and one of the most impacted.
Food plays a pivotal role throughout our lives as a source of pleasure and relaxation, family and community bonding, health, growth and nutrition. As we age, these considerations take on a whole new dimension in response to changing nutritional needs, appetites, living circumstances and physical challenges.
To help aged care providers address these evolving concerns, bring back the pleasure of eating and optimise the health of older adults, the government is releasing a series of Food, Dining and Nutrition Resources in the categories of dining, choice, swallowing and oral health.
Why is it so important?
One of the most pressing concerns to look out for in older adults is malnutrition, which has been called a ‘silent epidemic’. Malnutrition has a spiralling effect on all aspects of health, including impaired wound healing, immunity, loss of muscle mass, increased risk of falls and sarcopenia, all contributing to reduced independence, quality of life and mortality.
This is a double-edged sword, as multiple factors can thwart older adults’ food intake and increase risk of malnutrition. Physical challenges can make it harder to access food, for instance, including even the simplest things we take for granted like using utensils, opening food packaging, chewing and swallowing difficulties.
Other factors can take the simple joy out of eating. Losing a loved one can result in depression and loneliness, contributing to poor appetite and lower motivation to prepare food, sit down and eat. Medication side effects – a common result of polypharmacy in older age – can create nausea and appetite loss. Other potential issues include dementia, kidney failure and thyroid problems.
The good news is that some steps have been taken towards improving food and nutrition in aged care. In line with that, the first of the resources that has been released focusses on “Dining in residential aged care – tips, tricks and what to avoid”.
This includes recommendations around allowing plenty of time for meals, sitting with residents during mealtime, and helping them when asked or needed while promoting dignity and independence.
Also important is presenting food nicely – even if it is texture modified to cater for swallowing difficulties – and creating an enjoyable dining experience and atmosphere, allowing residents the choice of eating by themselves or with others.
The series elaborates on the importance of an enjoyable dining experience: offering different options, catering for cultural differences and personal preferences and providing good food that is not only nutrient rich but smells and tastes appealing as well.