Tips for Promoting Optimal Nutrition During the Transition to a Long-term Care Facility

Chances are, you probably know someone in a nursing home or a rehabilitation center. But you likely don’t know how to navigate it so that they maintain optimal nutrition throughout the process. I have been a dietitian in a Long-term Care facility for over 30 years, and I know how difficult the transition can be for those entering for a short or long-term stay. Nutrition may be the last thing on your mind, so I’ve compiled a list to help you advocate for your loved one to ensure a smooth transition.

First, you must realize that not all nursing homes are created equal. Some are not-for-profits that may have more generous budgets, while others have a very tight food budget. While you can’t just ask what their food budget is like, you can ask some essential questions to help determine if the place you’re considering is the best fit for your loved one.

One crucial tip is to visit during mealtime. That way, you can assess the treatment of the residents. Are they are getting the correct amount of assistance? Is the environment well-lit? How is the meal being served? Are there trays or a tablecloth that is preset with the silverware and cups? What happens when someone isn’t eating? Are alternates offered? Are the residents being treated with respect? You can learn so much during this observation period, and I recommend trying to do this. Below are some ways to help promote nutritional intake in your loved one.

Questions to ask:

  • The menu must be posted. Ask to see it. How many options are there?
  • What does the always available menu look like? For example, some nursing homes only offer two choices and a limited “always available” menu, while others have an extensive list.
  • What types of nutrition supplements are available?
  • What is the procedure for bringing in food?
  • Does the facility accommodate special diet requests such as gluten-free or vegetarian? If so, what types of foods are available?
  • Are snacks and fluids offered throughout the day?

What you can do to help provide optimal nutrition:

  • Give a list of likes and dislikes, and allergies to the dietary manager or the dietitian.
  • Be able to provide weight history and if there is any noticeable difficulty chewing and swallowing.
  • List what your family member eats at breakfast and preferred beverages for all meals.
  • Bring in favorite foods to encourage optimal nutrition. If they are on a special diet, be sure to have the item approved by the nurse in charge.

Communication with staff:

  • Alert staff if your family member needs assistance with meals or adaptive eating equipment.
  • Notify staff to any noticeable changes in your loved one’s condition.
  • Attend the Resident Care Conference for quarterly updates on your loved one.

Most importantly, advocate for the resident’s overall health and well-being. If something doesn’t get resolved with the dietary manager or dietitian, ask to see the next in charge, often the Director of Nursing or the Administrator. You may also voice your grievances with the social worker who can help to rectify the issue. If they cannot solve the problem, each facility has an Ombudsman to advocate for the resident’s rights. The contact information for this person must be posted at the facility.

Overall, nutrition generally declines as people get older. One way to prevent this is through prompt nutrition interventions. Therefore, providing detailed and timely information to the dietary staff on day one of admission is crucial.

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