Ask the Right Questions: Is Your Parent Getting Good Nutrition in Aged Care?

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How to make sure you're getting the right nutrition in aged care.

This is a guest article by Melanie Dancer, founder of advisory service Aged Care Insider.

One question to ask aged care providers to get the conversation straight to where you need it to be is…

“What’s the quality of my mum and dad’s nutrition going to be?”

(In other words, “I’ve heard food can be terrible, what are they going to eat each day, exactly?”)

Let’s not beat around the delicious mulberry bush here…food, nutrition and the preparation of food is a hot topic for both residential services and home care. Not only does this subject stir a lot of raw emotions in families and care givers, but it’s also a delicate and often embarrassing topic to talk about because of our relationship with food as a society.

“What do you mean by that…do I really have a relationship with food?” Yes. We’re a pretty polite bunch here in Australia. We’re also told as children to “Eat what you’re given, please!” and to “Finish your dinner!”

What this translates into as mature adults in this scenario is when we’re looking for services to assist us or our family members, we avoid asking questions that may elicit a ‘parental response’ from those in authority (aka an aged care provider) who may label us “troublemakers” or “too bossy” for fear that there may be repercussions, or they may not be “accepted” into the facility or service.

They should show you first-hand what their food looks like to their current customers.

That, my friends are exactly the reasons to ask and probe when researching an aged care provider.  Not only will you see and hear their response to this most basic question, but you should also be offered the opportunity to see first-hand what their food and nutrition actually looks like to their current consumers. That might mean observing a meal service or looking at their preferred third party provider list for options to have great fresh and frozen meals delivered.

In the case of home care, a meal delivery service for some or all meals may be a trade-off between hundreds of hours of service and dollars worth of other essential needs like personal care, cleaning, gardening and mobility aids.

In the case of residential facilities, the topic of food is essential to interrogate so that you know that their food standards and options are up to scratch.

ASK for the best person to speak to!

How to ask about aged care nutrition

Here are my top food-related tips when researching home care (including ‘self-management’) and residential care providers. Keep in mind you may need to request to speak to the person in charge of this specific area, such as the facilities manager, chef, or lifestyle coordinator. So ASK for the best person to speak to!

  1. Ask specific questions about food and nutrition, “On any given day how do you as a provider facilitate the need for good food and nutrition to your consumers?”
  2. Request to observe a meal service or see photos and testimonials for food delivery service customers (recent ones in the last 6 months – not ones from 1990!)
  3. Ask to see a current menu from their site, or third party provider
  4. Ask about Standard 1 (Consumer Choice). Ask, “Which third party providers do you offer consumers as their meal delivery service?” (Please note! There are multiple meal delivery services these days, not the obvious ones that come to mind) and “How can I have this service added as part of my Care Plan?”
  5. Ask about Standard 5 (applicable to residential aged care only). Ask this question: “Has there been any accreditation issues or non-compliances and/or complaints in the last 2 years in relation to food, food hygiene and food safety audits – and what were they?”

If you have cultural and other specific dietary needs it’s going to be even more important that you are able to look the provider right between the eyes and grill them (…sorry, I couldn’t help it!).

Yes, it’s always important to ask about food.

Ultimately it’s a great barometer for how sophisticated and mature a provider is and how willing they are to treat you with respect and understanding when you discuss this vital topic.

Melanie Dancer of Aged Care Insider

Melanie Dancer is adamant about getting the answers and knowledge you need to find the best aged care services. She has an extensive background in community development and social services, including executive roles involving aged care reform. You can contact her at mel@agedcareinsider.com.au.

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