Testing aged care meals — are they up to scratch?

Food services in residential aged care facilities are not in keeping with new Aged Care Quality Standards, according to a study led by Caring Futures Institute researchers.

The nutrition and dietetics research, presented at the Australian Association of Gerontology digital conference this month, reports on a survey from 2019 of about 400 residents from around 20 aged care homes in South Australia.

The residents gave feedback on their perceptions of the facility’s food services in light of the new standards.

Only two-thirds of the aged care residents surveys said they always had access to a choice of food, while a quarter of residents said their meals were always tasty.

Flinders PhD candidate and accredited practising dietitian and Caring Futures Institute student member Morgan Pankhurst says Australia aged care is going through a culture change as the consumer-driven standards were introduced and effective as of July last year.

“These not only highlight the role of food quantity and quality in ensuring residents receive adequate nutrition and hydration but, for the first time, now also discuss the importance of resident choice, autonomy and dignity,” she says.

In the survey, many residents felt that they always had adequate choice (66.4%) and variety (44.2%). However fewer felt that their meals were tasty (25.1%) or appetising (28.4%).

One third of residents thought their food preferences were always met but a small amount (2.6%) felt they had flexibility around meal timing.

Less than half the residents felt their feedback or suggestions would always be listened to.

The research concluded that based on these resident perspectives, many centres fail to meet the core expectation of the Aged Care Quality Standards.

Ms Pankhurst says aged care providers must work with residents to create a greater understanding of their preferences and expectations.

“It highlights for us as researchers the need to work with homes to help them figure out how they can improve their food systems and what they’re offering to residents. It’s not necessarily about spending more money ,” Ms Pankhurst says, adding the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s final report should also provide insights into improving food services.

“This snapshot highlights some key areas for improvement within the residential aged care food service system. Targeted research can assist homes to develop and institute changes within their resources.”

‘A Snapshot of Food Service in Aged Care Homes Under the New Standards’ (co-authors Dr Alison Yaxley and Professor Michelle Miller) was among a series of presentations by Flinders University experts at the ‘A Climate for Change in Ageing’ AAG 2020 conference , from 18-20 November.

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