As our older adults grow older and ageing population doubles in number many dietitians, healthy ageing activists and aged care providers are asking the question – how do we best nourish our elderly?
Literature suggests that up to 50 per cent older adults residing in aged care facilities are at risk of malnutrition, which can affect all other aspects of care such as mobility, wound healing and immunity to common coughs and colds. Historically, food in residential institutions such as aged care has been notoriously poor, and dietitians working in this field have been striving to promote menu planning with consideration for seasonal produce, variety and strategies for preventing malnutrition.
This concern for malnutrition has extended to scrutinising of traditional therapeutic diets such as the ‘diabetic diet’, best known for its restriction around added sugar in desserts and drinks and its potential to increase risk of malnutrition. Although a restrictive diet isn’t what Diabetes Australia promote any more, the memory of it lives on and the absence of specific guidelines for menu planning in aged care means practices can vary.
A researcher from Flinders University, Olivia Farrer, has undertaken a recent literature review as part of PhD studies within the Nutrition and Dietetics department to look more closely at the impact of liberalising the diet in aged care for older adults with diabetes. Her project is supervised by Professor Michelle Miller and Dr Alison Yaxley, and Associate Professor Karen Walton of the University of Wollongong.
On examining the research available the jury is still out on the benefits or consequences of sugar restriction and diabetes management but the authors generally agree that a liberalised diet is likely to promote a better quality of life for those in aged care.
Which brings us to the question – do all older adults want to eat cake? And do all older adults with diabetes want a liberalised diet or are other factors more important, such as variety, fresh ingredients or seasonal produce?
Ms Farrer is now recruiting older adults for small focus groups in which she hopes to discover what is wanted on the menu in aged care, which she hopes will help guide future development of menu guidelines in this industry. If you are over 65 years and interested in participating in these studies, please contact Ms Farrer at [email protected] for more information.
This article is part of a series written by staff from the Dietetics and Nutrition Department in the School of Health Sciences at Flinders University.