Dec 20, 2017

Aged Care: Food Choices, Autonomy and Quality of Life – What Are We Missing?

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Living in an aged care facility offers much-needed support to many older people who require easy access to care services and regular assistance with daily living tasks.

However, one of the impacts of living in an aged care facility for residents’ is the gradual or rapid decline in independence. This loss of independence can negatively impact a resident’s sense of autonomy and overall quality of life.

Loss of independence and the impact on quality of life

The majority of residents have been used to making their own decisions their entire life prior to moving to an aged care facility. A sudden transition to an ‘institutionalised’ environment can decrease the residents’ sense of autonomy and ultimately lead to learned helplessness. Especially if they are not encouraged to be active participants in their own care and a member of their new community.

Offering choices to residents prevents this decline of autonomy by reminding them that a transition to a new living environment does not mean that their decision-making ability will be compromised.

Providing choices starts by asking residents 

Encouraging decision-making among residents can help them adjust to living in an assisted care facility. There are many ways that facility managers and aged care workers can promote decision-making among residents, some include:

  • Asking residents what time they wake up and go to bed each day
  • Allowing residents to decide what time to shower or bathe
  • Supporting residents to choose their own clothing and hairstyle
  • Ask residents about their preference for menu selection and food choices

Why food choices are particularly important

Research indicates that a lack of food choices undermines self-determination among residents, potentially lowering their quality of life.

Additionally, if residents are unable to choose foods that they like to eat, they may reject their meals entirely. This could lead to nutritional deficiencies, weight loss, and poorer physical health.

Studies show that the introduction of food choice programs leads to higher levels of satisfaction with meal services and improvements in overall health.

Timing of food selection and its impact on dining experience

The timing of a resident’s meal choice is just as critical as the actual selection of food itself. Research suggests that residents should be presented with food choices on the same day that the meal is scheduled to be served.

Offering residents choices days or weeks before a meal is scheduled is shown to have a negative impact on their satisfaction with their dining experience.

Every resident is unique – aged care facilities role in harnessing this

As aged care facilities support residents and their families to deliver increased autonomy and quality of life, it is critical to remember that every resident is unique and should be treated as an individual. Some residents have

  • Cognitive impairment has compromised an individual’s ability to make sound choices
  • A resident’s physical health is declining because the resident repeatedly makes poor dietary choices
  • The resident requests assistance with dietary choices due to a desire to improve his or her health

The availability of food choices can positively impact an older person’s living experience in an aged care facility. By following the five simple steps below, aged care facilities can positively impact residents’ quality of life:

1) Start with a collection of healthful meal options.

2) Clearly outline food choices to residents.

3) Make sure that choices are offered on the day the meals will be served.

4) Continue to monitor the health of residents to ensure that residents can make competent decisions.

5) Involve residents in the development of food choice programs.

The Bottom Line

Aged care facilities play a pivotal role in protecting the health and safety of older people whose health or mobility are compromised. However, aged care facility managers must always take steps to preserve residents’ sense of autonomy and improve their quality of life.

By offering food choices to residents, aged care facilities can create a more enjoyable living experience for residents who wish to maintain their independence.

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