The ability to prepare and access nutritious meals is a key factor in enabling older people to remain in their homes, a dietician says.

Dr Olivia Farrer

Dr Olivia Farrer, an accredited practising dietitian and lecturer at Flinders University, says it’s important for older people to take advantage of services that will help them eat better at home.

These can include transportation to the shops and learning how to shop online and use meal delivery services.

“Any of those services that can nurture helping people access food, prepare food and eat three square meals a day and snacks is going to help people stay independent,” Dr Farrer told Community Care Review.  

“The healthcare team can work closely together (with them) to recognise when someone is needing a little bit more support.”

Nutrition and diabetes

Dr Farrer’s latest research is on nutrition and diabetes self-management in aged care, and is published in the Australasian Journal on Ageing.

The research, a qualitative study, looked at 18 older adults with diabetes between the ages of 60 and 88, living in their own homes.

Participants of the study felt confident managing their diabetes, including administering their own insulin and ensuring they maintained a good diet.

However, they were concerned they would lose this autonomy once they enter residential care, particularly the ability to choose what to eat across the day.

Dr Farrer says the research provides insights into how older Australians are managing diabetes at home.

“I think we’re actually doing a pretty good job of empowering people with diabetes to support themselves in the community,” she said.

Meal delivery services

In residential aged care settings, where meals are “just part of a bigger system”, the importance of food can be forgotten, Dr Farrer said.

“We sort of tick the boxes by having different coloured vegetables and having different proteins, but then we’re not considering how it tastes, how it looks and how it’s being received because we’re just trying to make it fit within budget.”

This is less of a problem for meal delivery services, such as Meals on Wheels, which gives older people the autonomy to choose their own meals.

However, these services have their own limitations.

“I think the great thing about Meals on Wheels is that people can go online and order in quite a short turnaround, so it’s a bit different to the residential space.

“Meals on Wheels particularly offers a soup, a main course and a desert, (but) the risk has always been that older adults will break it up into two meals.”

Some older adults will have the main meal during mealtime but then the soup and dessert later in the day, she said.

“The risk there is that actually across the day, they’re not getting sufficient nutrition, so actually there’s a lot of work (needed) in that space around promotion of what else needs to be consumed

“(It’s) making sure that people have pantry staples to supplement what’s been sent… I think on the whole (these services) are actually doing things a lot better, but they’re only providing for one meal a day.”

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