Some conditions that affect people in later life, such as stroke, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, can affect a person’s ability to feed themselves and to swallow. Even where there is no particular health condition other age related issues, such as ill-fitting dentures or loss of appetite, can affect the older person’s nutritional intake. Consideration should also be given to the impact of eating difficulties on the social aspect of mealtimes. A Swedish study (Sidenvall, 1999) noted that older people affected by debilitating physical or mental conditions strive to retain their independence and dignity when eating, and that such loss of skill can be painful and can cause embarrassment. It is important that support is provided in a discreet, sensitive and respectful manner that does not draw attention to the person’s difficulties.
Mealtimes and nutrition are important to older people in relation to their quality of life and as a measure of the quality of service they receive. Evidence for this comes from a range of studies into different types of health and social care provision. Mealtimes and nutrition ‘have been raised repeatedly... as an opportunity to respect residents’ dignity, or undermine it’.
Meals and mealtimes affect the quality of life for older people and are indeed the ‘Highlight of the day’ for many people in residential care (Commission for Social Care Inspection, 2006) (link). A small study into care homes found that, for residents, food is a definer of the quality of a home (PG Professional and the English Community Care Association, 2006). In the Department of Health (DH) online survey (DH, 2006d) respondents complained that not enough help is available to those who need assistance with eating. The analysis of British data from the Dignity and Older Europeans study supports this: ‘participants said patients were often not fed by nurses and this was often a problem for older people who could not feed themselves’ (Calnan et al, 2003). As the research overview found, not having appropriate help with eating and drinking can have more serious consequences for people with dementia or depression.
Jan 5, 2012 11:28 AM