In keeping vulnerable aged care residents safe from COVID-19 its important not to lose sight of their bigger health picture. Quality indicators in the last quarter of 2019 show rates of unintended weight loss among residents have increased, and experts are calling for aged care providers to prioritise their food focus to mitigate the effects that isolation and loneliness can have on malnutrition risk.
Dr Cherie Hugo founder of the Lantern Project has long championed for improvements in aged care through greater investment in food. Dr Hugo predicts that if aged care providers are not actively prioritising food that we may “see malnutrition rates rise well above 50% of the aged care population over the next three months”
There is much that can be done to ease the isolation that may result from COVID-19’s lockdown precautions, some of which we shared in April’s Talking Taste. The Lantern Project has published the Lantern Lockdown Tips on Facebook, a series of simple strategies addressing social and mealtime activities and food choices to support better food intake for residents in aged care:
Meal time tips:
1. Connect generations with reading online
2. Physical distancing doesn’t mean social isolation. Be creative in connecting residents in your home to minimise isolation.
3. Protect and prioritise meals and not clinical activities at meal times. Ensure residents are supported with meals to optimise intake.
4. Allow health professionals remote access to your online resident records to enable telehealth consults and engage with your aged care dietitian on how to respond most effectively to any residents identified as being at heightened risk of malnutrition. Weight is not the only indicator of this.
5. Ensure all staff are on high alert for instances of poor food intake and can respond quickly to offer alternative meal choices. It’s important to never just take away an unfinished meal.
6. We eat more when in good company. Encourage families to share a Family Facetime or Family Zoom meal with residents who are isolated in rooms. Train staff to position and connect devices as part of the mealtime setup. Alternatively, consider staggering meal times to allow residents to eat in smaller groups in dining rooms and where movements in the home are restricted, position residents in doorways for meals so they can see and engage from a distance with other residents in surrounding rooms.
7. Loneliness increases malnutrition risk. If you have family in aged care, look for creative ways to connect
8. Offer an indoor plant or two for each willing resident to tend and care for. Plants can help boost wellbeing, reduce stress & anxiety, improve creativity, provide purpose and help improve air quality
9. Consider boosting nourishing fluid intake by offering hearty soups at both lunch and dinner ahead of the main meal to naturally fortify the diet with extra nutrition
10. Connect over language by setting up remote speaking exchanges where a resident can teach or learn a language
11. Be creative with exercise as restricted activity can reduce appetite, decrease mood and feelings of well-being
12. Offer positive learning opportunities in place of negative screen time. News updates can often just heighten stress and anxiety
13. Consider milk-based fruit smoothies as a good way to offer extra protein, energy, fibre, fluid and vitamin C during lockdown
14. Offer a daily hot breakfast option for residents as appetites are generally best a breakfast time and research points to spreading out quality protein options over breakfast, lunch and dinner every day