More dietitians needed in aged care

10th August 2020 | Eativity editors

As aged care homes across the country continue lockdown precautions in a bid to keep COVID-19 at bay, the sad reality is that another crisis – malnutrition – is building for many older Australians. The Dietitians Association of Australia says urgent action needs to be taken to stop malnutrition from becoming COVID-19’s lasting legacy.

“Aged care workers are doing their very best, but it’s devastating to hear reports of people not being fed, or meals being left at the doors of residents who need assistance to eat or drink safety,” says Ngaire Hobbins, an Accredited Practising Dietitian working in aged care.

“The isolation necessary under lockdown diminishes already small appetites, and this adds to the chances of even the best meals being left uneaten. But, without adequate nutrition, residents become more vulnerable to illness, infection, injury and falls. Good food needs to be eaten to provide valuable health benefits.”

Next week, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety will meet to discuss the response to coronavirus and what can be learnt to manage future pandemics. Dietitians Australia is calling for an increased focus on nutrition care during these times. This includes having a dietitian engaged at all aged care homes.

Food is the most fundamental form of “medicine” to support older Australians.

“COVID-19 has impacted everyone’s day-to day-lives, but especially aged care residents,” Hobbins says. “Older Australians need more support to help gain the nourishment they need, especially those who require assistance at meal times or who have a reduced appetite, or swallowing or chewing difficulties.”

Unplanned weight loss, which is an indicator of malnutrition risk, is reported in government-funded aged care homes. Since July 2019, the number of residents experiencing unplanned weight loss has continued to rise. Over the first quarter of 2020, an additional 1730 residents experienced a significant loss of three kilos or more over three months. The disruption and turmoil of COVID-19 is only likely to exacerbate these figures, further highlighting the need for nutrition to be everyone’s priority.

“Weight loss due to malnutrition is not a new issue, but it’s going to be one that is hard to shake if we’re not proactive about it,” Hobbins says. “Accredited Practising Dietitians are vital in ensuring aged care homes provide nourishing and enjoyable food to older Australians, without breaking the budget.”