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Shining the light on food in aged care

Software used to ‘sense’ changes in conflict areas such as Iraq is being used to help improve the dining experience in aged care facilities. The Lantern Project’s Explore app uses software which recognises patterns by gathering the micro-narratives of day-to-day conversation of people’s experiences around food in aged care facilities.

The Lantern Project isleading the charge on positive aged care food experiences (Source: The Lantern Project)
The Lantern Project isleading the charge on positive aged care food experiences (Source: The Lantern Project)

“The app works by ‘sensing’ what it is that is the problem,” says Cherie Hugo, an accredited practicing dietitian and founder of the Lantern Project, an organisation that aims to improve the quality of life of all aged care residents in Australia through good food and nutrition.

Ms Hugo founded the Lantern Project because she is passionate about ensuring aged care residents are well nourished and excited about eating. It now has over 450 members including peak industry bodies, allied health professionals, researchers and resident advocates and other interested stakeholders in aged care.

When gathering feedback normally, Ms Hugo says residents often try to give what they perceive is the ‘right’ answer rather than an ‘honest’ answer. “Residents are very polite, but we need to get past that,” she says. The app enables anyone using it on the phone or online to input their thoughts anonymously. There is also a paper option if people prefer.  

The organisation has already seen results with one facility changing the language on menus to more basic descriptions. “Residents didn’t recognise the ‘fancy names’ on the menu so they weren’t choosing the dish,” she says.

Ms Hugo points out, Australia has high levels of malnutrition in aged care facilities; studies have found up to 80 or even 90 percent of residents are malnourished. “And it’s been around for a long time says Ms Hugo. “Just looking at the figures from 4 or 5 years ago – we haven’t made a dent.”

The Explore app collects information about people’s experiences around food in aged care facilities (Source: The Lantern Project)

Ignoring the issue is costly she believes with repeated hospital visits and an increase in use of expensive supplements. “If a person eats better they feel better; they are less likely to fall, have pressure areas, less prone to infection and less likely to have a re-admittance to hospital,” says Ms Hugo.

She believes there is an over reliance on supplements in aged care, with more money been spent on supplements when a change in diet or the eating experience could improve a person’s health.

Ms Hugo believes the low budget set by many care homes - just $6.08 per person per day - means poor quality food is often used. This does not improve nutrition, and she is keen to see a mandated minimum spend in aged care facilities.

However, it’s not just about the food. Ms Hugo points out the eating experience can also be enhanced to encourage people to eat and enjoy meals. This could include comfortable furniture, changing the acoustics, different staff training and a change in food presentation, particularly for those who are on purified diets.

“Getting the dining experience right is part of it,” she says. “The Lantern Project is looking at what we can do through food to raise quality of life; it’s an evolving area and we’re not professing to know the solution, but let’s see if we can make some changes.”

The Lantern Project is still seeking participants (residents, staff, volunteers, family members and anyone else who has had an experience of food in aged care facilities) to use the Explore app or online form as part of a bigger study which eventually aims to improve the dining experience in residential care. 

Click here for more information and to share your aged care food thoughts and stories for the Lantern Project study.

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