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Dining With Dignity

Matt Dodge, Executive Chef at care home Chelsea Court Place, highlights the important considerations care facilities must

take into account when designing a diet and creating a dining experience for residents.

Many older people have unique nutrition needs which can oſten become difficult to meet in care home environments where monitoring the daily intake of individuals can be a challenge. As we age, our appetite and sense of thirst can decline, making seniors more susceptible to dehydration and muscle weakness. Good nutrition supports overall health and wellbeing, helping to keep the immune system strong and protect against diseases, illness and frailty, so is imperative to ensure the elderly are consuming enough nutrition; both quality and quantity.

Quantity Due to the decline in appetite amongst older people, smaller meal portions are oſten better with the option of second helpings and additional, substantial snacks throughout the day. A big plate piled with food can seem overwhelming when presented and may also diminish the appetite. Having food cut into smaller pieces may also help individuals, especially if they are struggling with cutlery – the meals won’t take as long to eat, so they won’t go cold and they won’t feel like they are losing their dignity by being slow or having to be fed; factors that can make individuals self-conscious and decrease their desire to eat.

Presentation Presentation of the food is another good way of stimulating appetite. If food is nicely presented on the plate, it will immediately be more appealing. Also, it’s important to think about colours on the plate – a white plate full of beige food won’t look as appetising as a plate full of rich colours – bright

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green, red, purple and orange shades of fresh seasonal produce will be much more tempting. At Chelsea Court Place, we use red and blue plates as studies have shown that this helps individuals with dementia identify between the different foods o the plate. For example, if you have a white plate with chicken, mashed potato and a creamy sauce, some people may not be able to identify between the plate, the potato, the chicken or the sauce.

Retaining Dignity Maintaining the dignity of individuals surrounding meal times is very important in a care home environment. Care home providers should carefully consider the cutlery and dinnerware choices as individuals don’t want to feel like infants with plastic plates and beakers. There are many options available to aid eating and this should be approached in a sensitive manner.

It is important to look for signs of problems with swallowing which can happen to those with dementia or who have been sick. Indicators of such issues include grimacing when eating, repeated clearing of the throat, coughing or large movements of the jaw when eating. Prompt diagnosis is key, especially in cases of dysphasia.

Taste In addition to the basic enjoyment of eating quality, nutritious food, taste is a very powerful sense which has the ability to trigger memories of life experiences, stimulate happiness and comfort, all of which are pertinent in people afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Understanding likes and dislikes and favourite meals of residents can help

shape the menu. Regularly engaging with individuals to ascertain their culinary preferences, what they enjoyed most (or least) about the meal, what they would like to see more / less of is all positive feedback. Before residents move into Chelsea Court Place, we conduct a home assessment and ask them what their favourite meals and snacks are, as well as what they ate on their wedding day. This is great information to have at hand if there is a decline in health or appetite. Additionally, these meals can be prepared for celebrations such as birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions. We also ensure we gain a full understanding of their dietary and cultural requirements so the team is always prepared and the kitchen fully stocked.

The Dining Environment Mealtimes should be a happy occasion so residents are relaxed and look forward to it. Too much noise can be disruptive and stimulation such as TV, radio and loud music can be very distracting. The environment surrounding mealtimes

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