Tailoring Nutrition for All Residents
Caring for the nutritional and hydration needs of care home residents is a vital part of caring. Amazingly, up to ten per cent of older people in the UK are at risk of malnutrition, and this includes residents of care homes. Of the older people admitted to hospital, 30 per cent are suffering from malnutrition, so good nutritional care is very important.
Mealtimes in Residential Care Homes
For some residents who prefer to stay in their rooms, mealtimes are the only time they socialise with other people, and it is important to try to encourage them to enjoy at least one meal in the day with others. A residential care home can ensure that the table is attractively presented with matching crockery, cutlery and table decorations to make the experience of mealtimes more enjoyable. Residents who need assistance with eating or drinking should be helped respectfully and discreetly by staff. In many care homes, visitors are welcome to enjoy a meal with the residents. In addition to making family members feel more at home, this can also reassure them that their loved one receives a well-cooked, nutritionally balanced diet.
Food in Residential Care Homes
Providing foods that the residents enjoy will mean they are more likely to eat well. Regular meetings between catering staff and residents in a residential care home will allow people in private care homes to express their likes and dislikes, request favourite foods and generally have some input into their diets. Regular audits are also important and will highlight where problems may occur. Since the nutritional status of people often changes with age, it is important to ensure that their diet includes all the nutrients they need to keep them healthy. Smaller portions of nutritious home-cooked food are often more appropriate for older people, who may have smaller appetites.
Hydration is also vital in maintaining health, so residents should be encouraged to drink plenty to guard against constipation and urinary tract infections, even if they are initially reluctant to do so due to worries about continence.
Some care homes in West Sussex and elsewhere use the Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool (MUST) to identify people who are at risk of malnutrition. The BMI (body mass index) of the person is calculated by measuring their height and weight and reading off the BMI on a chart. Where staff are unable to measure weight or height, the tool provides alternative ways. The screening is carried out soon after admission and at regular intervals – usually monthly for people who are not shown to be at risk of malnutrition or obesity.
If an individual is identified as at risk of malnutrition, they can be encouraged to eat more calorific foods. Some residents will need high-calorie supplements such as Complan to be added into their diet.
People at risk of malnutrition should be screened more frequently, and if the dietary interventions are not improving their status, they should be referred to a dietitian for specialist advice. The MUST tool is quite simple to use and is invaluable in identifying those at risk, although other nutritional screening tools are available.