Hungry for Your Time

Even before the isolation and in-room eating requirements of the pandemic, the nutritional needs of nursing home residents were often unmet. The social isolation and staff shortages of the pandemic exacerbated the problem. We know that inactivity, social isolation, poor nutrition, and loneliness contribute to frailty, and frailty increases the risk for poor outcomes. National Nutrition Month is a good time to consider the nutritional status of this already vulnerable population.

Why is malnourishment common in seniors?

Malnutrition (undernutrition) is common in older adults and more so in the nursing home. Maintaining good nutrition is a challenge. 

The Canadian Frailty Network lists the following contributing factors:

  • Not hungry
  • Poor sense of smell or taste
  • Medications interfere with digestion and nutrition
  • Mobility issues make shopping and meal preparation hard
  • Financial issues—less money for food
  • Loneliness and grief
  • Dental health issues
  • Illness or disease

Other factors affect nutrition in nursing home residents. For instance, many are dependent on others for eating, polypharmacy is frequent, dental problems abound, and psychosocial issues have been magnified throughout the pandemic. Psychosocial factors include social engagement, depression, and aggressive behaviors. 

HOW CAN WE IMPROVE NUTRITION IN LONG TERM CARE?

Many factors contributing to malnutrition and weight loss are modifiable in a community setting but much harder to change in the nursing home. Residents, already restricted in opportunities for socialization, will be impacted more by isolation or chaotic mealtimes. Nonetheless, satisfying socialization during mealtimes will contribute to a sense of well-being. Long-term care facilities will need to focus on creative ways to provide this moving forward.  Elsewhere, food choices matched to resident preference affords each individual an occasion to exercise some control and autonomy. These two factors, combined with high quality food, will improve the likelihood of meal completion.  

Elsewhere, consider:

  1. Is there adequate staff for mealtimes (staff, volunteers, and families are pivotal)?
  2. Are high quality nutritional choices available (choice is important)?
  3. Is there mealtime ambience the residents will value (music, socialization)?
  4. Are mealtimes a task to accomplish or an opportunity to improve quality of life?
  5. Are the staff aware of the value of these approaches?

Patient Pattern can help you with automated health risk assessments and other analytics, data collection/sharing, and documentation that enables your clinical team to focus on person-centered care while reducing data errors or gaps/delays in communicating information.

Contact us today to learn more about software clinicians actually want to use to care for residents today and long after the pandemic.