4 More Reasons to Improve the Dining Experience
The evidence is mounting: what we do in the dining room matters, a lot.
Good nutrition is a key factor in health outcomes and how well people feel day to day. But, lifelong habits and changes related to aging can make it difficult for older people to eat as well as they should. Recently there have been a number of studies showing improvements in the dining experience help overcome some of these issues.
The use of real food residents enjoy improves clinical outcomes.
Studies are finding lower weight loss and decreased use of laxatives and appetite stimulants when residents like the food they are offered. One study found a "69% reduction in weight loss in the first three months and no 'unavoidable' loss in six months."
Furthermore, when residents eat better, communities save money on supplements and plate waste is reduced.
Enhanced dining environments in nursing homes result in greater caloric intake.
“Particular focus on areas such as table dressings (tablecloths, napkins, flowers), family-style meals, and staff presence at the table resulted in significantly increased caloric intake for residents over a six-month period."
These are important findings, particularly in light of research showing 35-85% of nursing home residents are malnourished.
Malnutrition is linked to increased infections, electrolyte imbalances, altered skin integrity, anemia, weakness, fatigue and other health issues.
Independence with eating improves quality of life of residents with dementia
according to another study, and it’s probably safe to say that is true for every resident, in fact, every person. Eating is a very personal act. Imagine how you might feel if you were not allowed to choose what, when and where you eat. Certainly you would lose some dignity and empowerment. You might also lose your appetite.
What if every meal you ate occurred in a lackluster dining room where conversation was minimal and food was served in a rushed, impersonal manner? Would you feel inclined to savor the experience, or hurry through your meal and get out of there?
Imagine—or better yet, try out—eating in your community’s dining room as if you were a resident. Do you feel the experience would satisfy your emotional and physical needs while you are at the table? Or do you suspect it might be somewhat discouraging and lonely?
New industry quality standards are a call to action.
At every housing level, higher standards of service are being demanded by either surveyors, residents or the families we serve. Although quality assurance and process improvement are not new concepts in the long-term care industry, we are now expected to give residents and staff more input, power and participation than ever before. Delivering high quality of life has also gained new importance. Going forward, we must balance diagnosis-based treatment and safety with resident choice, independence and satisfaction. Mealtimes, because of their centrality to health, well-being and satisfaction within your community, will be critical to improving outcomes.
Dining environments that support better outcomes don’t happen by accident. They are a result of intentional focus on:
Honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses
Setting high standards based on your mission and goals
Honoring residents and their preferences
Defining processes that are specific and measurable
Training staff using a curriculum-based approach proven to change behaviors
Building relationships among all stakeholders
Constantly refining and improving
 Bump, L. (2010) The Deep Seated Issue of Choice.
 Bowman, C. (2008) The Environmental Side of the Culture Change Movement: Identifying Barriers and Potential Solutions to Furthering Innovation in Nursing Homes.
 Kristel A.N.D. Nijs et al. (2006) Effect of Family-Style Meals on Energy Intake and Risk of Malnutrition in Dutch Nursing Home Residents.
 Furman, E.F. (2006). Undernutrition in Older Adults Across the Continuum of Care.
 Carrier, West & Ouellet (2009), Dining experience, foodservices and staffing are associated with quality of life in elderly nursing home residents.
Spread the Word
Do You Practice Kind Dining®?
Let visitors know your community brings warmth to table
The new Kind Dining® window clings are hot off the presses and by now you should have received yours. Web badges are also available for your websites--watch for an e-mail with download links to the badge. Displaying your window and web badges prominently is an excellent way to start a conversation with visitors and prospective residents about your community's commitment to higher standards and genuine hospitality.
If you missed your badge delivery, please e-mail Cindy Heilman, MS, DTR
, right away. We want to help you spread the word about the great work you are doing to build relationships one meal at a time.
Notes from the Field
Keep Learning--and Teaching!
by Vera Bartasavich, BA, DTR
Learning is the key to staying young, vital and current with the world around you. As a lifelong learner, I’ve increased my knowledge through seminars, community classes, formal college courses, online classes and reading. I believe knowledge is empowering and should continue on a daily basis.
I spent over 33 years employed full time in the food industry. My job responsibilities incorporated a variety of positions within finance, logistics, sales, information technology, quality management, and regulatory affairs. In my last and most rewarding responsibility, I worked as a nutrition specialist, overseeing the process of nutrition labeling of over 1,000 products and answering consumer nutrition questions. All my job changes required extensive retooling of my skills.
Last August, a new page was turned to start another chapter in my life. I retired. I like to refer to my retirement as “recharging” as I am not ready to slow down yet. Three weeks after I finished working, I started a graduate program at Kent State University Health Education program. Fall semester I took one class and found it intense but very satisfying.
Midway through the semester I was required to meet with my advisor. I inquired about the graduate assistant program I heard about from students during orientation. My advisor exclaimed, “Sweet deal!” So, I asked what I needed to do to apply. My application was submitted the next week and within two months a graduate assistant position was available for the spring semester. I was so excited to receive the opportunity. My assignment was to teach two online courses to junior and senior students. In exchange for my instruction of 20 hours per week I receive a stipend and full tuition reimbursement.
Even though I had taken classes all my life, I never was a full time student. Now I had a full time graduate studies schedule plus teaching two courses that were unfamiliar to me. It was very intimidating but I made it through my coursework maintaining a 4.0 grade point average along with teaching. It was exciting that my contract was renewed to teach during the next year. One of my professors asked if the PhD program is one area I was considering. Who knows? I can’t control my age but I can control my knowledge.
I want to thank Cindy Heilman of Higher Standards, LLC. I view Cindy as a mentor, providing support and encouragement while I pursue higher learning, just as she did years ago. During her studies she discovered the need for better customer service in senior living communities and skillfully Kind Dining® curriculum
. I met Cindy during our volunteer terms in the House of Delegates for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Over the years I’ve followed her success while she researched, implemented and expanded her business. I appreciate her sharing her knowledge and wisdom of dietetics along with her business savvy.
Remember, you are never too old to learn or share your learning with others!