The importance of food and nutrition in our senior years

April 24, 2023
April 23, 2023

Food and nutrition is important throughout our lives, but the need increases when we reach our senior years. In this episode, we talk to one of Blue Care’s dieticians, Ella Leach who takes us through what a good, healthy diet looks like for older people and we hear about an innovative solution for meeting the nutritional needs of residents in Blue Care’s residential aged care homes across Queensland.

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Ella Leach: Dr. Google is going to contain all sorts of information that may not necessarily be true. There's a lot of false information out there. And the other thing that Dr. Google can't do is it can't tailor the advice to you, you and your particular needs. You may be able to look up, say, dietary advice for diabetes, for example, but Dr Google is not going to factor in. If you also happen to have heart disease, you're also malnourished. You also have all of these other conditions. The Internet is not going to be able to combine all of that and work out exactly what you need.

Host: Ella Leach is a passionate dietitian who started her career in BlueCare Allied Health straight out of University nine years ago. Supporting the diet and nutrition needs of our aging population is what inspires her to go to work each day really.

Ella Leach: Advocating for them and trying to make sure that people are aware of these sorts of issues because otherwise they're not going to get the help that they need and they will suffer. And that sort of grinds my gears a little bit. So I definitely want to be helping them.

Host: Welcome to Positive Aging, a podcast that explores how to live well in your senior years and the importance of getting help early to live life your way in retirement. Today we discuss the importance of diet and nutrition in your senior years. We hear practical advice from our dietitian and learn about an innovative solution for meeting the nutritional needs of residents in BlueCare's residential aged care homes across Queensland. First, though, let's discuss what a good, healthy diet looks like for older people.

Ella Leach: I'm definitely an advocate for the Australian Dietary Guidelines for the general population. So aiming to eat a variety of foods from the five food group. So your vegetables, your fruit, your meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans. It's quite a long food group. Some people would just refer to it as meat, but there definitely are alternatives in there. Same with your dairy, milk, cheese, yogurt, as well as alternatives and your whole grains and cereal foods. So mainly trying to get a variety of those foods to make sure that you're meeting all of the different nutrient requirements and then trying to limit certain things that don't really add a lot of value to our health and wellbeing. So limiting high salt foods and things that are high in your saturated or trans fats and added sugar, those sorts of things. So I mean, the obvious ones would be year cakes, chocolates, biscuits, greasy takeaway foods, all those sorts of things. Limiting those because they're not going to be providing you much good and they provide a lot of calories, usually as well.

Host: While these guidelines may work for most age groups, Ella says in your senior years, we need different foods in different quantities to stay on top of our health.

Ella Leach: Actually, that's one thing I'd like to point out that one big misconception is people think, well, if I'm getting older, I'm moving less, so I just don't need to eat as much. And it's true to an extent that maybe you don't need as many calories because you're not as active as a young person who's doing lots of exercise and very active. But certain nutrients, your requirements actually increase as you get older. So things like calcium, vitamin D, certain B vitamins as well, you actually need more of those than, say, a younger person. But if you are eating less food, that's going to make it even harder to meet those requirements. So that's where good nutrition becomes almost arguably even more important as you get older to try and make sure you are meeting those requirements.

Host: The common health concerns Alice sees every day are chronic diseases such as heart disease, type two diabetes and cancer, as well as bowel related issues such as constipation and diarrhea. But what you may not know is there's a more problematic health threat in our aging population, and more often than not, it goes undetected.

Ella Leach: One report that the Royal Commission did share, and it was a report through the Dietitians Association that highlighted that between community and residential, it's about 50% of the elderly population that actually are either at risk of or already have malnutrition. So it's definitely not a small issue that only affects a handful of people. This is actually really big, and they're calling it a crisis in Australia, but one that just people just are not aware of and therefore not addressing. So I thought that was brilliant, that the Royal Commission were able to highlight that and then obviously make some recommendations.

Host: The 2018 Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety provided 148 recommendations and highlighted that diet, nutrition and hydration are critical to the health of older people. Ella says to prevent malnutrition, you first need to be aware that it's a possibility.

Ella Leach: Unfortunately, often when I get referrals, people are already fairly progressed with malnutrition because people just don't recognize the signs. For starters, they don't know to be checking if someone has been losing weight by accident or if their appetite is reduced. And sometimes there's just so much else going on in their situations that it's maybe just not a priority, but they don't realize the consequences that will potentially come down the track. Yeah, there's a lot I think that the community, even health professionals, doctors and everyone family’s carers, everyone really should be made more aware of these sorts of things so that they can pick up on it nice and early and take action when they need to.

Host: Behind the scenes, BlueCare has been developing a way to enhance the dietary and nutritional care of those living in residential aged care homes. BlueCare's hospitality partner Craig Haggert says a new cloud based hospitality system called Net Menu allows residents to use tablets to order their preferred meals, catered to their nutritional requirements.

Craig Haggert: A tablet is about the photos of the food, the presentation of the food and making the food, I guess more presentable for you, but on top of that, just making sure it's the right meal So you're not in harm's way and then making sure you got that respect So you don't fall short of those malnutrition and dehydration Because you don't like something. We're really focused on trying to tailor that so you actually get the benefit that you need to obviously live life a little longer and feel a little bit more comfortable whilst doing that.

Host: Residents can request food they like and make notes about food they don't like. It's about giving them more freedom to create a more at home experience.

Craig Haggert: What would you like to eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner? We can animate your likes and preferences for I always want to have black tea and coffee served at my breakfast time so we can animate some of those preferences for you in the system, but also highlights to you the client, the resident, as well as the staff that there are certain dislikes that you like and it highlights them on the tablet saying, oh, this one's got capsicum potentially in the dish and says you don't like capsicum, but it might be fresh capsicum you don't like, not necessarily a cooked based capsicum product. So it opens the discussion.

Host: The new system is currently being implemented in three aged care facilities with all of BlueCare's 47 residential aged care homes in Queensland to start using the new ordering system over the next 18 months.

Craig Haggert: Aged Care has also had many other sort of systems similar to this. So there are other companies that have other products close to this. But this is a complete tablet to back of house to now purchasing based product from one of the number one leading sort of supplier of those sort of nutrition based systems in Australia. So it's exciting journey. It's great to see our industry change and actually put that nutrition at the focus.

Host: Ella agrees. She hopes for a future where older people, their families and carers are confident in how to manage their diet and nutrition to live a healthier and hopefully longer life.

Ella Leach: Well, I think it's really important in the future for clients and residents to become more empowered by learning more about nutrition and diet, Most likely from dietitians. That way they'll be able to make the most informed choices for their own health and wellbeing.

Host: Thank you to Ella Leach and Craig Haggert, for sharing your insights for this episode. Positive aging is brought to you by blue care, One of Queensland's largest and most trusted providers of in home care, Residential aged care, disability services and retirement. Mitch living.

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