BACKGROUND: Undernutrition, weight loss and dehydration are major clinical issues for people with dementia in residential care, with excessive weight loss contributing to increased risk of frailty, immobility, illness and premature morbidity. This paper discusses a nutritional knowledge and attitudes survey conducted as part of a larger project focused on improving nutritional intake of people with dementia within a residential care facility in Brisbane, Australia.
AIMS: The specific aims of the survey were to identify (i) knowledge of the nutritional needs of aged care facility residents; (ii) mealtime practices; and (iii) attitudes towards mealtime practices and organisation.
METHODS: A survey based on those used in other healthcare settings was completed by 76 staff members. The survey included questions about nutritional knowledge, opinions of the food service, frequency of feeding assistance provided and feeding assessment practices.
RESULTS: Nutritional knowledge scores ranged from 1 to 9 of a possible 10, with a mean score of 4.67. While 76% of respondents correctly identified risk factors associated with malnutrition in nursing home residents, only 38% of participants correctly identified the need for increased protein and energy in residents with pressure ulcers, and just 15% exhibited correct knowledge of fluid requirements. Further, while nutritional assessment was considered an important part of practice by 83% of respondents, just 53% indicated that they actually carried out such assessments. Identified barriers to promoting optimal nutrition included insufficient time to observe residents (56%); being unaware of residents' feeding issues (46%); poor knowledge of nutritional assessments (44%); and unappetising appearance of food served (57%).
CONCLUSION: An important step towards improving health and quality of life for residents of aged care facilities would be to enhance staff nutritional awareness and assessment skills. This should be carried out through increased attention to both preservice curricula and on-the-job training.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: The residential facility staff surveyed demonstrated low levels of nutrition knowledge, which reflects findings from the international literature. This has implications for the provision of responsive care to residents of these facilities and should be explored further.