In our previous blog, we discussed why weight loss is a concern for residents in aged care facilities. In this blog we discuss 5 simple steps to manage weight loss. Too often when a resident has lost weight, the immediate reaction is to prescribe nutritional supplements. In our view, while supplements have their place, there are many things we can try in the first instance.
5 steps to manage weight loss in residents
1. ‘Make every mouthful count ‘
Loss of appetite is common in older people. Eating can becomes a struggle and weight loss follows. When residents can only eat a small amounts, it is important that meals are high in energy and protein. We can ‘sneak in’ extra calories (kilojoules) by:
- Adding extra cream, cheese and margarine / butter to food
- Using full cream milk (rather than skimmed or low fat)
- Serving rich and tasty sauces and gravies with meals
- Using high fat salad dressings and mayonnaise
To make sure that protein needs are met:
- Serve a high protein food with each meal, for instance: eggs, yoghurt, legumes, meat, fish or chicken.
- Add skim milk powder to milk, porridge and sauces. (Or use a plant based protein powder).
- Make peanut butter freely available as a spread.
2. Serve delicious and appealing meals
Nobody wants to eat ‘yuck’ food, and definitely not if they already have a poor appetite! Bear in mind that ‘food is only nutritious if it is eaten’. So we need to make sure that meals are:
- Appealing and well presented. After all, we ‘eat with our eyes’! Taking a little bit of extra effort when dishing up can make the meal look much more appealing. Use garnishes to add colour, add a swirl of cream to soup – use your imagination!
- Tasty and flavoursome. A common misconception is that older people need bland foods. Nothing can be further from the truth! Old people often complain of loss of taste , so we should serve well seasoned and flavoursome meals. Another frequent complaint is the lack of salt (in porridge and cooked foods). Using salt in moderation makes food taste better, and residents are more likely to enjoy their meals.
- There has been a lot of negative publicity about sugar in recent years. Some facilities still use artificial sweeteners / sugar substitutes in desserts and baking, which is now a No-No. Baking with artificial sweeteners can taste awful and is likely to be rejected by the residents. Sensible use of sugar helps food taste good and also boosts calorie intake. So, continue to allow residents to enjoy their sweet treats if they choose.
3. Tailored meals to the their tastes. We all have our unique food preferences. Research shows that residents eat better when they have more choice with their meals. For instance, if Mary has a poor appetite, ask her what she feels like eating. It could be something simple like poached eggs on toast. Serving Mary the foods she likes can improve her intake and help to combat weight loss.
4. Eat little and often –The thought of sitting down to a huge meals is particularly daunting to older people with a poor appetite. The secret is to serve small, fortified meals with nutritious between meal snacks and drinks. (More on this in future blogs)
5. Check weight regularly – if your resident has a poor appetite and is losing weight it may be time to put them onto weekly weights. This way you can keep a close eye on weight changes. Make sure the GP is aware of the weight loss. If their weight continues to drop then it’s time to call in the dietitian.
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