• Louise Murray

How can dietitians support aged care facilities during the Coronavirus pandemic?

My goodness it’s a stressful and scary time for so many. It seems that every time I tune into the news that the numbers of both confirmed cases and deaths has increased. The most frightening part of this for me is seeing the number of older people that are affected and that they have the worst outcomes.

I saw on a tv report last night that an older lady in Italy, whose husband had died in hospital the day before after being diagnosed with Covid-19, was turned away from hospital even though she was displaying significant symptoms of the virus. Her adult children were trying to comfort her and provide as much support as they could, but dealing with grief and being so frightened for her own health at the same time? That’s too much, it broke my heart to see her so distraught.

We’ve seen in Australia that the fatalities (until now) have all been older people, including 2 of those in an aged care facility. Part of the fear factor is knowing that so much of this is out of our control.

But what can WE do right now? As dietitians, our role is to help people maintain the best health they possibly can through quality nutrition, right? So we continue doing what we are trained to do:

1. We contact facilities and make sure that their menus are providing adequate nutrition; we observe meal services and mid-meal rounds to check that residents are getting the high protein, nourishing food that they need to stay well and boost their immune systems.

We check that residents are getting as much fluid as possible to stay well hydrated. We know the effects of acute illness on older people, one of the first things to be affected is their hydration status. Let’s make sure they are given ample opportunities to drink and eat fluids (custards, ice creams, icy poles, soups, milkshakes).

2. We check that the chefs and management are confident with their food supplies from distributors and have adequate provisions should there be any shortages. What can they do to manage if staff also get sick - can they reduce their menu to one hot and one cold choice during an outbreak? Is there an adequate supply of pureed meals in the freezer that can be used if staff numbers are down and their time is severely limited? Can family members be screened and trained to help provide assistance to their loved ones, so there are enough staff to assist all residents with their meals? Can all residents be given high protein high energy milkshakes between meals to boost their protein and fluid intake?

3. Check that hand hygiene is in place for ALL residents prior to eating meals or snacks - are they taken to the toilet and have their hands washed before a meal? Is there hand sanitiser available in all dining areas? Are staff given updated training to make sure that they understand the importance and are vigilantly helping residents to do this?

4. Lastly but most importantly, take control of our own actions with hand hygiene and make an informed decision to not visit aged care facilities if we are in any doubt about our own exposure to Covid-19. The lives of our older people rely on us to protect them, let’s be a part of this solution as best we can.

I would love to hear of any other suggestions that you have in this difficult and unprecedented time.

Stay safe and well in this crazy time.

Best wishes and good health to you,

Louise x

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