Over the years, Dietitians Australia research has highlighted a prevalence of malnutrition in Australian aged care from 22 percent up to 50 percent, which can result in an increased risk of falls, pressure injuries, and hospital admissions, as well as mortality rates.
In light of this, Dietitians Australia believes a regular malnutrition screening of residents will detect when an older person is experiencing or heading towards malnutrition, and stop it in its tracks, resulting in reduced care costs in the future.
Dietitians Australia has outlined this recommendation in an eight-part aged care position statement, released on Thursday, 21 January.
This position statement includes other key recommendations that would promote best possible nutrition care for older Australians in nursing homes.
Julie Dundon, Advanced APD, Director of Nutrition Professionals Australia (NPA), and Aged Care Subject Matter Lead for Dietitians Australia, says the position statements cover the health and safety of older people in aged care.
"Older Australians have a right to food that is nutritious, familiar, and culturally and medically appropriate, as well as to eat appetising meals in an enjoyable setting," says Ms Dundon.
"These position statements highlight how dietitians can provide support across the spectrum of aged care and help improve the health and quality of life of our aging population.
“This includes mandatory malnutrition screening, and quarterly re-screening which should be embedded within community care and aged care homes.”
Ms Dundon adds that weight loss and malnutrition are not natural parts of ageing.
“It is vital that we take action to tackle this costly issue. Regular screening will help stop malnutrition in its tracks and prompt aged care homes to address the issues which are contributing to malnutrition,” she says.
The position statement has been released ahead of the National Congress on Food, Nutrition, and the Dining Experience held in Sydney in February, which is run by the Department of Health and the Maggie Beer Foundation.
These position statements from Dietitians Australia cover:
The importance of food in aged care Calls for the Government to invest in funding for nutritious food, National Meal Guidelines, and a dietitian to be included on aged care multidisciplinary teams.
Malnutrition in aged care Malnutrition screening to become mandatory in admission processes for aged care services, including re-screens every quarter. Residents identified as malnourished will receive a nutrition intervention, which will improve quality of life for residents and could result in more than $80 million in savings.
Consumer choice and dignity Residents in aged care receive choice with their food, such as food that is nutritious, familiar, culturally appropriate, well presented and part of a positive mealtime experience.
Oral health, swallowing, and hydration Calling on the Government to fund the development of National Meal Guidelines, including governance and accountability framework for aged care providers. Aged care providers would be required to have a team of dental, speech, and dietitian specialists to manage oral health, swallowing, and hydration of aged care residents.
Menu planning and innovation All aged care consumers must receive a daily menu with options that meet their nutrition needs and food preferences. The menu will be audited by APDs, including nutrition care reviews, quality of meals, and the dining experience.
Food production and presentation Aged care residents should be receiving quality food products with good presentation to entice eating. Additionally, the residential aged care systems need to have adequate funding for the implementation of menu standards and quality meals.
Mealtimes and dining experience Dietitians Australia calls for a national policy of nutrition care in aged care, including standards for meals, mealtime environment, and assistance with eating and drinking.
Aged care staff skills and training Aged care workers need to have training in nutrition care and the provision of nutritious enjoyable food.
Dietitians Australia also recently launched a virtual issue of the Nutrition and Dietetics Journal in January, which include peer-reviewed research on the topic of nutrition and aged care.
Judi Porter, Journal Editor in Chief, Fellow of Dietitians Australia, and Aged Care Subject Matter Lead for Dietitians Australia, says the research covers a wide range of topics.
"The collection of research explores food choice and National Meal Guidelines, the provision of high-quality food services in residential aged care facilities, and key clinical conditions such as diabetes and malnutrition,” she says.
"This research, along with the Journal’s previous virtual issue on malnutrition, highlights the considerable scientific evidence on the importance of nutrition for older Australians."
To read the position statements in full, visit the Dietitians Australia website.