Preventing malnutrition in later life

Tackling malnutrition: the role of the catering sector

This blog has been submitted by David Foad, ‎Group Editor at a media company at the forefront of the foodservice industry whose publications include Cost Sector Catering. Here he talks about the steps the catering sector can take to prevent malnutrition in care settings.

If you came across someone malnourished, then like me you’d probably believe you’d recognise the problem right away, even without the benefit of any medical training. We believe the giveaway signs would be a gaunt expression and flesh pulled tight over frail-looking limbs. Simple really. So how does malnutrition manage to go undiagnosed in care homes and hospitals?

Part of the answer is that, culturally, we often expect the elderly to lose weight as they get older, as though it were a natural consequence of ageing. In other words, even those such as nursing and care staff who should know better simply ‘don’t see’ the problem because they’re not expecting to.

Another contributory factor is that even where tools and training exist, such as MUST (Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool), they are not always being used. The result is that some elderly people are entering care homes or being admitted to hospital and there is no baseline measurement taken from which a nutritional care plan can be built for them.

If they are already malnourished, or become so over time, it can pass unnoticed by those charged with a duty of care.

What can caterers do? For a start, they can ensure they engage clinical and dietetic staff in a dialogue about drawing up a nutrition plan for every care home resident and hospital patient, and the starting point for this must be a proper assessment. MUST or an equivalent must be used, and catering teams should feel obliged to challenge inadequate or non-existent screening.

Secondly, they have to make sure that the meals they prepare are attractive, tasty and meet the nutritional requirements of care home residents and patients. Working with dietitians on this is essential, but their own skills are needed to make sure the food encourages people to eat.

The best way to ensure this happens is to talk to customers and get to know them. Find out what they like and what they don’t. If the result means they say they want custard with their roast dinner, as a dementia patient might well request, then that is what you have to serve.

The final stage of every food journey is just as important as making sure you’ve got the nutrition and taste right, and caterers have a role to play here too. The environment in which every meal is served has to be conducive to persuading people who may have little appetite to tuck in.

A pleasant dining area, no clinical interruptions during mealtimes, food presented attractively and adapted cutlet, where needed, are all important. Lastly, caterers must see to it that any food and drink is placed where people can easily reach them and that they get help if they need it with eating. There is no excuse for catering staff, they bear a large responsibility for making sure good food is eaten and enjoyed.



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