The issue of poor or inconsistent standards of nutrition in hospitals and care homes continues to persist, with the elderly especially at risk of severe malnourishment.
Malnutrition is not only restricted to those who do not, or simply cannot, consume enough food or the right nutrients.
Malnourishment can also occur when nutrients are ingested but are not digested or absorbed properly by the body. This is more likely to occur amongst the elderly population.
Treatment guidelines exist, but they are rarely applied in practice. Indeed, The European Nutrition for Health Alliance (ENHA) believes nutrition therapy is neglected within health and social care budgets.
“It is essential that malnutrition and dehydration problems are better recognised and treated,” said Elizabeth Meatyard, leadership associate at The King’s Fund, a health think tank based in the UK.
Elizabeth Meatyard, former nurse and leadership associate at The King’s Fund. ©Elizabeth Meatyard/The King's Fund.
As a former nurse, Meatyard shared details of a recent initiative she undertook that aimed to recruit larger number of volunteers to assist vulnerable patients to eat and drink.
She further developed The Kingston Hospital Dining Companion programme offering more specialised training to not only give general assistance and companionship to patients at mealtimes but also more detailed dining companion training led by a clinical team.
“Part of the role of the Dining Companion is also to encourage fluid intake, including the prescribed oral nutritional supplement (ONS) drinks,” she said.
“In addition, both fluid and food intake will be recorded by the Dining Companion where indicated. Timing of the supplements was also a concern as some patients were being given the supplements at the drug round just prior to the meal service.”
Speaking at Food Matters Live, Meatyard explained the clinical rationale for encouraging patients to take ONS immediately after their meals.
“This method helps prevent sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass and muscle strength) and nursing staff are currently being trained on this important part of nutritional care.”