The dining experience in skilled nursing facilities can be less than dignified for many elderly residents. For those on modified diets (pureed, chopped), the food tends to be unrecognizable with no shape or appetizing colors. Why would you eat something that you can’t even identify? This can lead to inadequate intake and poor quality of life.

For those who need assistance eating, they usually get wheeled up to a table, where a bib is placed around their neck.  Then a well-meaning aide proceeds to feed them with a spoon. Being fed turns the experience of eating into a mechanical process and can make one feel like a burden. And who wears bibs and eats with a spoon? Babies!  Our elderly residents are certainly not babies and should not be treated as such.

I’ve often heard residents who need help eating referred to as “feeders.” I find this to be such a disrespectful and dehumanizing term! What would you think if you heard your family member called a “feeder?”

Our elderly residents are treasures who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

How can we bring dignity and respect into the dining room?

First, offer people on modified diets beautiful plates of food. Food items should be easily recognizable (the appropriate shapes) with vibrant colors and wonderful aromas.   “We eat with our eyes” is not just a catchy saying, we know that visually recognizing food promotes better digestion. Food that is visually appealing stimulates the appetite and improves the enjoyment of eating.

Second, offer items that can be eaten as finger foods. This gives the resident a chance to eat more independently.  Or offer foods that can be eaten with a fork (yes, it is possible to create pureed foods that hold their form and can be eaten with a fork).

The above suggestions are not just wishful thinking, the means to achieve them are currently available and are being used successfully. They are easy to implement and ultimately save the facility money because less food is wasted.

And finally, how about calling those residents who need help  “Dependent Diners?”  I find that to be an elegant and respectful way of referring to those who need assistance eating.

Making a few simple changes will go a long way in improving the quality of life for our elderly and dependent residents who need modified diets. If you or a family member lived in a skilled nursing facility, how would you want to be treated at the dinner table?

 

For information on how to create and offer appetizing pureed food to your residents, contact: maria.quici@dysphagia-gourmet.com

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