Does the dietary intake a resident chooses really cause changes to their health? Does eating too much sodium cause increased pain or fluid retention or is this just medical restriction to live by? The simple answer is “yes.” The true answer is “most of the time.” Have you ever seen someone who eats the worst diet in the world; yet, they are thin, have great lab work and are never sick? These people do exist, but the truth is, dietary intake does eventually tell the tale of whether you took care of yourself or not.
Older people are vulnerable to malnutrition which is associated with an increased risk of morbidity and mortality. Increased falls, vulnerability to infection, loss of energy and mobility, poor wound healing and confusion are reported consequences of undernutrition. When malnutrition is a factor, it is typically present upon admission – before the individual enters your facility. As such, the nutrition your facility offers is important.
While undernutrition may be considered a greater risk to health in older people, obesity also increases morbidity and mortality from diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The prevalence of being overweight or obese continues to rise among the population as a whole, and current evidence indicates the prevalence in those aged 65+ is increasing.
Sodium levels can have a major impact on the health of an older individual, as high sodium levels can cause a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and confusion. The best way to avoid a high sodium diet is by not adding salt after the meal is cooked. Checking food labels is also another useful way to ensure you are not exceeding the recommended daily amount of salt. While it is the doctor who orders residents’ diets, the facility should take the responsibility to provide healthy options for residents to choose from, regardless of the diet ordered. Fresh vegetables and fruits may require a little more preparation, but helping residents maintain good diets can help keep them from needing more medical interventions too quickly.
Dietary changes seem to affect risk-factor levels throughout life and may have an even greater impact in older people. According to the World Health Organization, relatively modest reductions in saturated fat and salt intake, which would reduce blood pressure and cholesterol concentrations, could have a substantial effect on reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease. Increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables by one-to-two servings daily could cut cardiovascular risk by 30%.
Be sure when you are looking at residents upon admission, you are considering their dietary needs. Many times, as residents age, they will have more dietary considerations. Do you have the capability to adjust your dietary services to meet their needs? It may be your decision to only offer a regular diet and not have multiple types of diets available, but the prospective residents should be made aware of this prior to admission. If you have a resident who is diabetic, it may not be an issue if your facility offers healthy meals regularly.
No matter the population you serve, whether they are very fragile or a strong active group, quality dietary presentation and content is best practice to offer for your residents. Sometimes these options get reduced when budgets are squeezed, but commitment to quality is needed.