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COVID-19 & Malnutrition In Aged Care Residents

aged care malnutrition nutrition May 24, 2022

Malnutrition continues to be a major concern throughout the aged care sector and has worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic began over two years ago.

Over 50% of those in aged care homes are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, exacerbating the effects of COVID-19 on residents. Felt on nearly every front, the pandemic has not only caused supply chain issues which lead to food shortages, but the disease has left care homes with staff shortages, meaning that residents may not receive the assistance they require.

Heightened restrictions upon both residents and those entering care homes can leave residents alone in their rooms in social isolation from their families and friends. The research shows that residents who are lonely are at a significantly higher risk of malnutrition, with risk increasing as COVID-19 variants continue to spread across the nation, leaving the sector in disarray and many Accredited Practising Dietitians (APDs) concerned about the health and wellbeing of elderly residents in Australian aged care homes.

Despite this and as the world returns to a new normal, we must continue to navigate the long-lasting effects of COVID-19 on malnutrition in aged care. Fortunately, there are four important steps, put together by APDs, that will help staff not only manage the risk of malnutrition but assist in identifying and preventing it.

1. Continuing visits from APDs

If aged care homes are still maintaining tight restrictions on their homes, then remote or virtual systems should be available for APDs to utilise. These visits must include access to resident records, video consultations, and observations of the meal/dining experiences. To ensure dietitians can provide knowledgeable, tailored, and comprehensive assistance with:

  • Malnutrition screening and management
  • Nutrition assessments
  • Nutrition care planning
  • Menu planning
  • Meal and mealtime environment reviews
  • Ongoing nutrition training

2. Screening for malnutrition risks

Appetite loss, changes in food consumption, and bowel movement are all signs of malnutrition. It is important that regular malnutrition screening tools are utilised to identify risks to residents to ensure intervention can occur early as needed.

3. Mandating annual menu and mealtime audits

As a condition of receiving the Basic Daily Fee supplement, every aged care home should be required to undergo an annual menu and mealtime quality assessment. Performed by an APD, the assessment will ensure each home meets the necessary nutrition requirements and residents are receiving meals that meet their dietary and nutritional needs.

4. Socialisation

Social isolation is one of the main contributing factors to malnutrition in aged care residents, which is why it is important to create an enjoyable dining experience. Mealtimes should be shared with loved ones, whether that is via technology like a zoom or FaceTime call or a shared dining experience with other residents in the home, will ensure residents are able to connect with others. This is essential to their overall health and wellbeing. If there are still COVID-19 risks or restrictions in the home, physical distancing of 1.5m can ensure an enjoyable dining experience for all.

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