Posted on Wednesday, 17th June, 2020
While Aged Care, of all industry sectors may have been most prepared for an infectious outbreak within their facility, nobody foresaw the secondary impact a global pandemic would have on residents.
Isolation and feelings of loneliness are common with the elderly as cognitive ability and physical abilities reduce. Normally, facilities are well placed to create a feeling of warmth, connection, and inclusion in their facilities as an integral part of daily activities.
COVID-19 has created new challenges for Aged Care as a nation-wide lockdown effectively banned external visitors (including close family and friends) to facilities during a part of March and all of April 2020. While everyone acknowledged the necessity of these steps, the impact has been significant.
A recent survey by The Lantern Project for Aged Care Chefs and care workers shows a marked increase in residents eating in their rooms during COVID-19 compared to pre-COVID times.
In the diagrams below we see that 65% of survey respondents had only a small proportion of their inhabitants (0-30%) eating in their rooms. During COVID-19, the number of respondents who said only a small portion of residents were eating in their room decreased, and the number of people who said that more than 61% of their residents were eating in their room increased from 15% to 27% of respondents.
The importance of helping people feel less isolated is significant as care facilities are starting to see a notable decline in appetite - and therefore nutritional intake and overall health - over the lockdown period. Research also backs up the link between appetite and feelings of loneliness.
Cherie Hugo from the Lantern Project, an organisation which is dedicated to helping Aged Care Chefs and care staff inspire the best solutions for food and nutrition in Aged Care, has run a campaign via The Lantern Projects Facebook page about combating feelings of isolation and loneliness your residents may be experiencing.
While resident safety is paramount at the moment, and eating in isolation is often the only option, there are many things Chefs and staff can do to help them feel more connected.
1. Use Technology
Technology has really come into its own over the last few months as platforms previously used for business conferencing have been instrumental in keeping families, friends and communities connected. Intuitive interfaces have helped even the elderly navigate apps like Facetime and Zoom. Similar apps allow people to dine together, apart. Help them connect with loved ones at mealtimes so that they don’t feel lonely while dining in their room.
2. Get into the groove
Music can be an instant mood-lifter. If your residents are sitting alone and in silence, make sure they can have their favourite playlist on especially during mealtimes. Nothing is more comforting than a favourite meal, and a soundtrack which reminds them of happy memories.
3. Watch party
While drive-in cinemas are seeing a definite revival around the world, for those who don’t have that option, you can create a watch-party where all of the residents can watch a movie at the same time on Netflix - from their rooms. The chat feature means, those who want to, can use the chat to ‘talk’ to each other during the film. Coupled with some delicious snacks or finger food, this is better than a premium seat at the cinema.
4. A compassionate ear
Where possible, ensure your food service and dining staff are able to spend time with each resident when meals are served to make sure they are comfortable and enjoying their meal. Engage in conversation and allow them to express their feelings and thoughts. A change in routine and daily habits can really affect some of them. A compassionate conversation with a trusted carer can settle their minds and allow them to focus on eating their meal.
For people with dementia the changes in routine and daily activities can be particularly distressing. The increase in people around them wearing face masks can also add to their distress, contributing to loss of appetite and decline in health. Where feasible, try to keep individual resident’s routines as similar as possible and try to keep them hydrated and fed by offering their favourite meals (even if repetitive or out of sync with regular meal times).
The Lantern Project also produced this video which is filled with additional tips to help Aged Care Chefs navigate these challenging times and keep their residents safe and healthy at the same time.