Do not forget food: essential ingredient in health and wellbeing of older Australians

Do not forget f ood: the essential ingredient in health and wellbeing of older Australians The importance of providing nutritious food and satisfying mealtimes in the wellbeing of older Austra lians must be recognise d if the recommendations from the Royal Commission ‘s report into the impact of COVID -19 on aged care are to improve quality of life for residents.

Allied health practitioners such as Accredited Practising Dietitians (APDs) must be engaged in aged care homes, with the wider reaching role of food pro vision also prioritised.

Yesterday ‘s report by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety recommend s increased access for allied health practi tioners to support aged car e residents.

Whilst a pos itive m ove, the creation of new Medicare Benefits S chedule (MBS ) items must be beyond that of the current funding mo del to adequately a ddress the true nutritio nal needs of older Australians during a pandemic.

“MBS items address concerns for indi vidual resi dents – but a dietitian ‘s role within a n aged care home is much greater than one -on -one care. T hey champion food and nutrition for all residents working with all involved in food provision, from the catering serv ice, nursing, and personal care staff through to cleaning and infection control. It requires an expert and coordinated system to ensure practical, safe food solutions are in place for each resident to receive meals that are appropriate for their healt h a nd dietary need s,” said Robert Hunt, CEO of Dietitians A ustralia.

“For dietitians to make an impact, funding needs to cover both an individual consultation and the whole food service system.” Food must be prior itised, particularly during times of uncertainty, as it nourishes both physical and mental health. In times of lon eliness and isolation, meals are a source of comfort to residents. When this is removed, the impact on mental health impacts is exacerbated.

“It was devastating to he ar reports of people not being fed, or no support being provided to those who require ass istance to eat and d rink safe ly. Inadequate intake of food leads to malnu trition.

lowering the ability to fight infection as well as affecting mood. This creates a down wards spiral.

further decreasing appetite and exacerbating poor physical and mental health,” said Hunt.

“While the focus of this pan demic is on infection control, we must think of how this impacts food service. Each home needs to have a plan to ensure they can contin ue to provide appropriate food and care to residents during an emergency,” said Hunt This would ensure residents will be safe ly and adequately fed and protect the health of both staff and residents.

“Food touches eve ryone in an aged care home – from administration, kitchen staff, nursing staff and allied health profess ionals. We all have a part to play to ensure residents can access individual nutrition care and have a robust f ood service system in place to support th eir re quireme nts,” said Hunt.

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