Addressing the nutritional needs of older people in residential care homes

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In the UK and Europe, malnutrition in older people is a significant and continuing problem. Malnutrition predisposes to disease, impedes recovery from illness, increases mortality and is costly to society. Despite the high number of older people potentially at risk, malnutrition in care homes has been under explored. There is concern that national guidelines regarding the nutritional care of older people in residential care homes are not always implemented. This qualitative study explored the factors that influence the nutritional care provided to residents in two different types of local authority residential care homes (providing personal care) in Wales. One home had communal dining rooms; the other had eight bedded units with their own kitchen and dining facilities. The sample of 45 participants, comprised 19 staff (managers, care and catering staff), 16 residents and 10 residents' relatives. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews, focus groups, observation and documentary review between August 2009 and January 2010. This paper focuses on how staff assessed and addressed residents' nutritional needs. In both care homes, staff strove to be responsive to residents' dietary preferences, provided person-centred care and worked in partnership with residents and their families to provide nutritious food in a homely environment. Neither home conducted nutritional screening to identify those at risk of malnutrition, contrary to national guidelines, but relied on ad hoc observation and monitoring. The staff's knowledge of special dietary needs was limited. A need for further training for care home staff regarding the importance of nutrition in maintaining health in older people, use of nutritional screening and special dietary needs was identified. Shared nutrition training between health and social care staff needs expansion and policy implications in terms of an enhanced regulatory focus on maintaining nutritional needs in care homes are proposed.

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