With necessary health measures implemented to combat the spread of COVID-19, the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) encourages residential aged care homes to embrace change to continue the delivery of health services.
This comes as many accredited practising dietitians (APDs), along with other allied health professions, are unable to attend residential aged care homes to provide essential services, raising questions about the impact this will have on the health of older Australians.
Current data indicates that malnutrition, or those at risk of malnutrition is present in up to 50 per cent of aged care residents1. Without intervention from trained professionals such as APDs, the risk of malnutrition rises, as too does the susceptibility for residents to fall unwell and experience ongoing poor health.
As safety measures for COVID-19 are of utmost importance, exploring innovative ways to provide healthcare to residents is a must. Without it, residential aged care homes are likely to experience:
- a wave of malnutrition and subsequent deaths in the months to follow. Research shows social isolation and loneliness significantly increases malnutrition risk for aged care residents2. Without closer monitoring or intervention, residents who are lonely, whose intake has reduced, or who experience weight loss are at a significantly higher risk of malnutrition and poorer health outcomes, including death;
- increased rates of wounds, pressure injuries and falls. Poor nutrition increases the risk of all these conditions. Nutrition screening and treatment of any degree of malnutrition is integral to the prevention and healing of pressure injuries and related wounds, and in the prevention of falls; and
- negative impacts on the provision of nutritious meals, snacks, beverages and texture modified meals to residents. This requires the ongoing support of an APD in foodservice planning and co-ordination.
The answer: harnessing the power of virtual services
Many dietitians have adapted their practice due to the nature of COVID-19. This includes providing consults through tele-conference and virtual methods, to ensure aged care residents can still receive the care they need, while providing peace of mind regarding risk of infection.
Julie Dundon, advanced APD, highlights how dietitians can continue to support the health of older Australians when physical access to aged care homes is restricted.
“When granted remote access, dietitians can deliver detailed nutrition care plans and regularly communicate with the food service and nursing teams. It’s important that aged care homes take these proactive steps, to help prevent our most vulnerable from experiencing unplanned weight loss and becoming more frail,” she says.
APDs are available to provide video conferencing consultations to residential aged care homes to assist with:
- malnutrition screening and malnutrition management (where remote access or similar, to resident files is granted)
- nutrition assessment
- nutrition care planning
- menu planning
- meal reviews
- mealtime environment reviews
- advice on assistive eating and drinking
- staff nutrition education and ongoing training
Good food and nutrition is essential for the physical, mental, social and emotional wellbeing for older Australians. If you are seeking the services of an APD, you can connect with a local dietitian in your area via the ‘Find an Accredited Practising Dietitian’ search function on the DAA website.
Dietitians Association of Australia is Australia’s largest and most influential organisation for dietetic and nutrition professionals, representing a growing membership of 7,200 across Australia and overseas. Its mission is to support our members and advocate for important issues that impact the health of the Australian community.
- Dietitians Association of Australia. Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety: DAA submission. March 2019
- Boulos C, Salameh P, Barberger-Gateau P. Social isolation and risk for malnutrition among older people. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2017 Feb;17(2):286-294. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26790629
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