With up to 30 per cent of seniors living at home at risk of malnutrition, community care staff must encourage clients to eat properly in order to prevent falls and unnecessary hospitalisations, an expert will tell the upcoming Active Ageing Conference.

The prevailing urban myth that older people don’t need to eat as much as young people is prompting many seniors to eat too little, causing themselves serious health problems as a result.

Ngaire Hobbins
Ngaire Hobbins

Community care workers have a pivotal role to play in educating their clients that they need the same amount of nutrients as young people, and even higher quantities of certain nutrients, in order to maintain health and wellness.

Dietitian and author Ngaire Hobbins will tell the upcoming Active Ageing Conference that the common misconception that older people don’t need to eat as much, combined with age-related declines in appetite, meant seniors were often “fading away” at home.

“Studies have found 10 to 30 per cent of people living in their own homes are either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition,” said Ms Hobbins, author of the book Eat to Cheat Ageing.

“That means they’re not as able to keep themselves well, they’re more likely to fall over, if they get a slight illness they’re more likely to end up in hospital, and when they go to hospital they don’t fare as well there.”

She said this had an “appalling effect” on older people’s quality of life, as well as a huge cost to the health system.

Ms Hobbins, who will facilitate a workshop at the conference on the importance of food within an overarching wellness approach, said the challenge was “trying to get that message out to seniors about the importance of feeding themselves better.”

Ms Hobbins, who is a former community care worker, said frontline care staff have an important role as they have regular engagement with clients, are aware of what is going on in their lives and can recognise when there is a problem.

However, she said it was important that care workers kept their own needs out of the equation. “Let’s say I call to see a client, and they have a slice of cake. I may not need the cake because I am younger and want to avoid the extra calories, but for the client that cake might be really important for their appetite and food intake.

“Therefore, it’s important I don’t discourage them from having that cake; that I keep my feelings out of it and make sure I look at what that person needs,” she said.

New focus on wellness

Ms Hobbins is among the group of sector consultants, researchers and trainers who will be facilitating workshops and participating in panel discussions at the Active Ageing Conference, which is being hosted by Australian Ageing Agenda and Community Care Review.

Since 1 July, community care providers are now expected to increasingly adopt a wellness approach in service delivery across both home support and home care. While some parts of the sector have been pursuing wellness and enabling approaches in recent years, for many providers this new requirement will represent a significant challenge. The conference will share the latest evidence on these enabling approaches, as well as strategies to implement them.

The Active Ageing Conference 2015 takes place on 29 October at the Amora Hotel, Sydney. Visit the conference website to access the full program and register

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