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Misconceptions and hospital systems restricting older patients’ food intake

"I don’t eat when I’m sick." "The smell of food makes me feel nauseous." "I’m quite depressed at the moment. When you get like that you don’t feel like eating much."

These were some of the sentiments shared by participants of a study into older people’s mealtime experiences in hospital.

The QUT, Dietitian Connection and Bond University research team interviewed 25 hospital patients aged 65–98 years and found that inadequate dietary intake is complex and influenced by a range of barriers.

Some of them included the view that poor appetite was an expected outcome of being sick and in hospital, and feeling rushed by food service staff who needed to clear meal trays.

Patients also purposely ate less food because they were anxious about being unable to access the toilet in time, as four patients were sharing the one facility.

Co-author Dr Ekta Agarwal from Bond University said: “Previous work that I have published demonstrates that when patients eat poorly in hospital, their risk of death increases by 2–3 times. Therefore, poor intake is not something that should be taken lightly in the hospital setting. There is a need to improve food awareness among staff members, patients and their families so that food can also be treated as medicine.”

Nursing Review sat down with Agarwal to unpack the different ways patients rationalised their poor food intake and the hospital systems that affect their mealtime experiences.

For more information on the research, click here.

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One comment

  1. I think meal times should be quarantined so that nursing staff are available to assist and encourage patients to eat. One issue is that staff are also on meal beaks at the same time as patients and another is that many medications and treatments are ordered for administration around meal times hence nurses are busy with these. I have seen an effective system whereby staff have their meal break on either side of the patient meals times and, part of the daily routine is for nurses to circulate and assist patients at mealtimes. Nurses are encouraged to not interrupt meals for treatment or medication administration (unless required to be taken with meals). Awareness raising(staff education) re the importance of food intake was also a feature of the system. Most nurses are aware of the issues surrounding patient food intake- but often do not have the sufficient staff resources to cope – which is why one work-around is to encourage family members to visit at mealtimes.

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