≡ Menu

Correct nutrition can make a huge difference to elderly in care

healthy mealHaving the correct nutrition can make a significant difference to a person’s wellbeing. Several studies have shown that the correct diet, suitable hydration and light exercise amongst the elderly can make them feel more alert, reduce the number of infections and colds, aid digestion and reduce the need for laxatives. In some cases care home residents have even reported improved sleep patterns and better balance.

As we get older our nutritional needs change. Elderly people living in care homes or hospitals have differing nutritional requirements from teenagers, young adults and those who are middle-aged. Because many have a fairly sedentary lifestyle, they are unlikely to require as many calories as, say, a fifteen year-old yet within those calories they must receive the correct nutrients, minerals and balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat.

Add to this the fact that elderly patients may suffer from ailments such as osteoporosis, diabetes, high or low blood pressure or various allergies and it becomes evident that providing the correct food to meet individual nutritional needs is a necessity.

At VWA we have long been advocating tailored nutrition for healthier bodies and have trained a number of healthcare professionals working with older people. Now the subject of nutrition in the elderly is finally being taken seriously by the Government. PM David Cameron has recently launched the Nursing and Care Quality Forum; the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has recently released findings from its Dignity and Nutrition Inspection (DANI) and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has developed social care quality standards for patients in NHS care.

In addition, a seminar entitled “Elderly nutrition and dignity in hospitals and social care: quality standards, engagement and compassion” is to be held in
London on 14th June. Speakers are to include Dame Jo Williams, chair of the CQC; Dianne Jeffrey, chairman of Age UK and Sir Keith Pearson, chair of the NHS Confederation and the Partnership on Dignity in Care.

Recent updates to the Care Quality Commission Guidelines now state that there should be a recognised leader within care facilities who understands the nutritional requirements of the residents. They should ensure that the residents receive balanced meals, taking into account their medical, dietary and hydration requirements.

In order to satisfy this requirement, the designated leader needs to undertake specialist nutrition training. However, this doesn’t mean a year at night school or hours of study. Those now charged with responsibility for nutrition can learn all they need to know in just 3 days on our RSPH Level 3 Course in Healthier Food and Special Diets.

This course equips candidates with all the information they need to make knowledgeable changes to diets and menu plans for specific nutritional requirements. It includes factors affecting food intake and choice; the sources and functions of nutrients; energy needs and the identification of energy sources; the nutritional requirements of specific groups; the importance of a balanced diet; the effect of diet on health; the development of food related illnesses and the promotion of healthy eating.

On the course you will learn that many older people are deficient in Vitamin C, Folic Acid, Vitamin D, Iron and Calcium, which can lead to problems such as wounds taking longer to heal, osteoporosis, anaemia, stiffness in muscles, depression and general lethargy. So to help combat these deficiencies you should be offering a choice of yellow and orange fruit and vegetables, green leafy vegetables, oily fish, pulses, red meat, liver, wholemeal bread, eggs, dairy products and fortified cereals.
You may already be aware that the best source of Vitamin D is sunlight. But did you also know that Vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption?  So, even if your elderly clients or patients are taking a calcium supplement, without the necessary amount of Vitamin D in the body, it will be useless.

Knowing which foods to serve to elderly people in your care and devising specific meal plans for them is essential if they are to remain in good health or recover more speedily from an illness. However this is only part of the job. The other concerns preparing food that is attractive to eat, offering a choice of foods and giving clients adequate time to complete their meals – assisting them where necessary. A variety of textures, colours and flavours will always go down well, but even in instances where food has to be pureed, using moulds (e.g. a fish shape) so that food is more attractive and recognisable is a good tactic.

Finally, it’s a well-known fact that frail older people are particularly vulnerable to the effects of food poisoning, so not only should the food offered be nutritious, it should also be prepared in a safe manner. Larger establishments should have a HACCP plan in place, but at the bare minimum, those involved in the production of meals should have a certificate in food hygiene.