FOOD & DRINK Catering for the elderly

Matt Goodman, Catering Manager at The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society, discusses the challenges his team faces when catering for elderly residents, and the importance of finding a balance between food, nutrition, hydration and taste.

The UK has an ageing population, and it is projected that there will be an additional 7.5 million people aged 65 years and over in the UK in 50 years' time. As we reach the later years of our lives, our personal circumstances may change, with some of us requiring supported living to help meet our needs. One thing that remains the same for residents within a

care home setting is the routine of breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The Royal Alfred was established as a charity in 1865 to help retired seafarers returning home from sea, the foundation of which we still stand by today. Our specialist maritime care home in Surrey, Belvedere House, provides nursing, dementia, residential and respite care to former seafarers and their dependents. At the Society, we have a tailored and personalised approach to all aspects of care, which also includes mealtimes. As the Catering Manager at Belvedere House it is my responsibility to ensure not only that residents receive the correct nutrients for their specific dietary requirements, but also enjoy their food and drink.

We understand that everyone is different and we take time to cater for all diets including vegetarians, vegan, pescatarians, diabetics and those living with coeliac disease, with specialist menus for each different food specification. When new residents join the home, we ensure they are spoken to about their food preferences, any allergies, along with any medical conditions we need to be aware of that might affect what food they can have and of course, any firm favourites they would like to see on the menu. This tailored approach continues as residents also feedback with regular food surveys.

One of the elements I love so much about my job is creating the menus, as I am passionate about providing the best quality food and catering experiences. We utilise quarterly resident meetings to discuss menus, have tasting sessions and use catering surveys for feedback on our ideas, ensuring all residents are very much involved. We also alter residents’ menu plans aſter monthly weigh-ins, according to their health needs. The catering team attend a large number of trade shows from which we draw menu inspiration, but we also love watching TV cooking shows and creating recipes inspired from these.

The feedback on food we receive from the residents and families is very positive and the fact that diners can choose their meals from a detailed menu ensures an element of independence for residents and a feeling of normality. One of

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the hardest parts of the job is trying to please 68 residents. Another is ensuring residents get enough calories and fluids, when caring for vulnerable adults it's such a massive responsibility for us.

Hydration plays a vital role in promoting a healthy lifestyle and maintaining our bodily functions, including cognitive function and bowel and bladder health. Our bodies are made up of almost 60% water, a figure which does decrease over our lifetimes which is why staying hydrated is key for the older population. Unfortunately, elderly people are more at risk to the negative effects of being dehydrated, as when we age our ability to sense when we’re thirsty weakens over time, combined with the fact that older people tend to have a lower percentage of water in their bodies anyway; which again puts them at greater risk of dehydration.

The effects of dehydration can be felt with weakness, dizziness and an increased risk of falls in those unsteady on their feet, with the elderly sometimes hospitalised in serious cases. In order to combat this and to keep our residents fit and healthy, at Belvedere House we have hydration stations in all communal areas of the home. Our team of course closely monitors residents’ fluid intake, but the stations also encourage independence in residents to help themselves to drinks and snacks that can curb dehydration. Fluids are not the only way to keep dehydration at bay; sometimes with our dementia patients that struggle with drinking, instead we offer them fruit which is high in water content such as melons, strawberries and apples, all of which go towards our residents’ fruit and vegetable intake too.

“We ensure we fortify menus for residents where it’s necessary, using full fat milk, butter and

cream in recipes to increase the calorie content for people with small appetites.”

As with all adults, it is recommended that we eat a balanced, varied diet containing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, fibre, protein and calcium. Omega-3 fatty acids are recommended for over-65s as they may also help to alleviate joint issues and arthritis which are common in later life and can also help protect against heart disease.

To maintain good bone health, older adults are recommended to eat a diet rich in calcium, which comes from dairy products like milk and cheese and can also be found in green leafy

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