Feeding The Elderly Population

Matt Goodman, Catering Manager at The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society discusses the challenges his team faces when catering for elderly residents and the importance of finding a balance between food, nutrition and taste

The UK has an ageing population, with almost 20% (18.2%) being 65 years of age or older . As we reach the later years of our lives, our personal circumstances may change, with some of us requiring supported living to help meet our needs. One thing that remains the same for residents within a care home setting is the routine of breakfast, lunch and dinner.

As the Catering Manager at The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society’s care home, Belvedere House, it is my responsibility to ensure not only that residents receive the correct nutrients for their specific dietary requirements, but also enjoy their food. We also work hard to make mealtimes a sociable event for residents.

We understand that everyone is different and we take time to cater for all diets including vegetarians, vegan, pescatarians, diabetics and those living with coeliac disease, with specialist menus for each different food specification.

In later life, there are many reasons why mealtimes can sometimes become tricky for residents; tastes can change, appetites can deplete, and we tend to become less mobile as we age. Mealtimes can also be an area of concern for those living with dementia, when communication and motor difficulties can seriously affect how food is consumed.

At The Royal Alfred, we have a specialist dementia annexe which cares for 36 residents living with the disease. I work with my catering staff to ensure that we make mealtimes as easy as possible for these residents and their carers. Sometimes, simple changes such as altering mealtimes where sleep patterns are disrupted can have a big impact as residents may become hungry and only want to eat at midnight, rather than at teatime. This ensures that whatever the individual’s personal circumstance may be, we can deliver on our key responsibility of providing the residents with the correct nutrition, around the clock.

Dementia can also change our tastes, so it is recommended that we use strong-flavoured or sweet foods to entice these residents to eat and enjoy their food; one of our chefs, Janice is famous in the care home for her cakes and sweet treats! There is also the issue of dementia patients thinking they have already eaten, so refusing food is common, or forgetting that they have just eaten and wanting to eat again. Belvedere House has nutrition and hydration stations in all lounges, which encourages the residents to help themselves if they are peckish.

Helping residents to physically eat food is also an important element of caring for our residents with dementia. Some will struggle to understand when food may be too hot to eat, or have difficulty chewing, so it’s important we follow personalised instruction cards to see how an individual’s meals will need to be pre- pared. Communication is vital between the catering and care staff and it’s our job to work together to make sure residents are properly fed and watered.

One of the elements I love so much about my job is creating the menus, as I am passionate about providing the best quality food and catering experiences. We utilise quarterly resident meetings to discuss menus, have tasting sessions and use catering surveys for feedback on our ideas, ensuring all residents are very much involved. We also alter residents’ menu plans after monthly weigh-ins, according to their health needs.

The catering team attend a large number of trade shows from which we draw menu inspiration, but we also love watching TV cooking shows and creating recipes inspired from these.

The feedback on food we receive from the residents and families is very positive and the fact that diners can choose their meals from a detailed menu ensures an element of independence for residents and a feel- ing of normality

One of the hardest parts of the job is trying to please 68 residents! Another is ensuring residents get enough calories and fluids, when caring for vulnerable adults is such a massive responsibility for us.

As with all adults, it is recommended that we eat a balanced, varied diet containing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, fibre, protein and calcium. Omega-3 fatty acids are recommended for over-65s as they may also help to alleviate joint issues and arthritis which are common in later life and can also help protect against heart disease.

To maintain good bone health, older adults are recommended to eat a diet rich in calcium , which comes from dairy products like milk and cheese and can also be found in green leafy vegetables, nuts and bread. We ensure we fortify menus for residents where it’s necessary, using full fat milk, butter and cream in recipes to increase the calorie content for people with small appetites.

Vitamin D is a key part of an over 65s diet, as it helps the body to absorb calcium more easily – this is found in oily fish, red meat and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals. We have weekly roast dinners and fish on the menu each Friday which proves very popular with the residents and helps to boost their vitamin D intake.

All in all, we think it’s important to remember that it’s our role as members of the catering staff to help residents lead happy and healthy lives and meals contribute to this. Having a resident’s favourite meal on the menu gives them something to look forward to and can bring a smile to their face. Allowing residents the simple chance to choose (within reason) what they would like to eat that day and supply those living in our care home with the nutrition that is important in all stages of life, but especially in later life.