It’s widely recognised that older people in care homes will have a broad range of dietary requirements that need to be met to ensure a healthy and happy life. As we get older, it’s important to maintain good eating habits. Changes in our body mean that we may need less energy (calories) but still require the same amounts of protein and important vitamins and minerals to preserve our health and wellbeing.
Furthermore, good nutrition and regular physical activity play a protective role in several conditions that are more common as we get older e.g. cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. They also help to protect oral health, bone and joint health in later life.
Other factors can affect our food and drink intake as we get older too, and make us more at risk of not getting all the nutrients we need, such as general ill health, being less mobile and having a vulnerable immune system.
Food is such an integral aspect of a person’s life, after all; it embodies their identity and culture. This creates a significant level of responsibility, then, on those entrusted to provide appropriate nourishment in care homes.
Ultimately, if we want to stop care homes from reaching for the cheapest frozen ready meals, they need to integrate industry-specific technology into catering and utilise digital solutions that can enhance the dining experience for those residing in care.
Several key dietary factors have to be considered when planning and developing a meal plan for any resident. Malnutrition, after all, is more prevalent in older people, particularly those living in care settings.
There are also concerns that low intakes of protein, vitamin D, and iron are having an increasing effect on overall health. Carrying out an initial assessment of a resident’s specific dietary needs and food and drink intake is therefore very important in finding out any current problems. Prevalence of malnutrition is often greater in nursing homes than residential homes, as people may have had a longer period of ill health or a condition that impacts food and drink intake.
Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight is important as we get older. Recent surveys conducted in England show we have large numbers of people over the age of 65 who are overweight or obese. Obesity increases the risk of diseases such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthrosis, joint pain and obesity-related cancers.
Indeed, those residing in care homes may choose to eat an unbalanced diet and, if that’s the case, their rights need to be respected. However, there should always be a risk assessment and management process if the diet has a potential impact on their health.
Furthermore, older people are particularly at risk of dehydration because of the effects of ageing. They may also be less able to sense thirst or communicate they are thirsty. One study found that 20 per cent of older people living in UK care homes were dehydrated.
Fluids are particularly important in reducing the risk of constipation, falls, urinary tract infections and renal stones. They also help regulate body temperature.
Care homes are much more likely to have residents who are at risk of being underweight and malnourished, or alternatively, have residents who are overweight or obese, which can impact their mobility and care, meaning their dietary requirements will differ.
The important message here is to ensure there isn’t blanket food provision. For example, not all residents should receive fortified puddings. Similarly, not all residents should receive lower-fat milk. It’s fundamental that individual requirements, preferences and needs are taken into account.
Put simply, there are an array of key variables that must be considered when meeting a resident’s dietary needs. Moreover, for those tasked with the responsibility of preserving the wellbeing of others, it can be a daunting proposition to cater to so many contrasting dietary requirements.
Technology, though, can be used to offer a solution in terms of timesaving, minimised errors and better consumer-directed care. As a provider of care catering software to care homes, we have set our sights on creating an environment where care staff are no longer required to spend time repetitively completing residents’ dietary records.
Our cloud-based software ensures residents’ preferences are readily available to the catering team, eliminating the burden and risk of using paper and whiteboards as a means for documentation.
The real-time collection and distribution of information ensures new dietary requirements and preferences find their way to the kitchen promptly. This ultimately allows catering staff to focus solely on optimising the quality of food, which in turn, enhances residents’ dining experience.
Indeed, we are extremely fortunate to live in an age where technological advancements are constantly empowering people to live better and healthier lives. As a result, we know first-hand the administrative difficulties that come with catering to so many distinct dietary needs. By utilising technology, we can reduce the work toll on care caterers, which gives them the means to instead dedicate their efforts to spend more personal one-on-one time with residents.
To put it into context, our software offers six different textures of food, five different fluid textures, 100 different allergies, intolerances and dislikes, and can cater for at least five different cultures every meal service. With residents eating six times a day, 365 days a year, having to manually record and maintain that volume of data is unsustainable. Moreover, it places unrealistic expectations for catering staff to both plan, track and execute residents’ daily dietary needs.
Overall, it’s clear to see that the nimble capabilities of digital care technology are empowering care homes, which inevitably creates a better working environment for care caterers while making an exponential difference to their residents’ lives and daily wellbeing. We look forward to a future where care homes have the necessary tools to deliver outstanding care while simultaneously maximising the dining experience for their residents.
Published in The Journal of mHealth by Belinda Adams, CEO and Founder of SoupedUp.