Nutrition is a crucial component of life for all humans as it impacts health, well-being, growth and survival. Nutrition is always a need; however, throughout the lifespan, nutritional needs change. Nutritional needs become more critical at many points in life, for example, while growing. One of these stages where nutrition is significantly essential is in older adults. Aging is the “gradual process of natural changes that occur throughout the human lifespan” (Leitão et al., 2022). During this process, several mental and bodily functions begin declining, often resulting in health complications and issues such as increased morbidity (Leitão et al., 2022). As a result of modern medicine and new interventions, life expectancy has increased over the years, leading to approximately “8% of the world population being over 65 years old” (Leitão et al., 2022). However, researchers highlight that this increase in life expectancy and high proportions of older adults globally does not necessarily indicate that “people experience better health in their later years when compared with other generations”.
The health issues that commonly accompany the aging process are attributed to both internal (i.e., biological) processes and external factors. Lifestyle factors such as diet and physical activity are significant risk factors for unhealthy aging. Healthy lifestyles consisting of a healthy diet can “promote the maintenance of cognitive abilities,” boost the immune system, strengthen bones and muscles, and promote longevity (Leitão et al., 2022). Studies demonstrate that nutritional diets characterized by decreasing the consumption of red meat, saturated fats and salt and a higher intake of fruits and vegetables can promote healthy aging (Leitão et al., 2022).
For individuals working within the long-term care sector, caregivers must be aware of the benefits of healthy and nutritional diets for the individuals under their care. Food is not only a human right but, as explained earlier, can facilitate healthy aging, one component to ensuring the older adult experiences a positive quality of life. As a result, when moving a loved one to a
long-term care home, one would expect that the home is attentive to the nutritional needs of the residents who live there, providing tasty and healthy meals while accommodating the specific needs of each individual. However, this is not always the case. For example, in 2021, Dr. Vivian Stamatopoulos tweeted a picture of a meal served to an Ontario long-term care resident in a for-profit long-term care home in Windsor (Khan, 2021). The meal consisted of a piece of bread and two sausages. This incident was not an isolated event. According to the 2018-2019 report by the Ministry of Long-Term Care, long-term care homes reported “over 660 incidents regarding food and nutrition” (Khan, 2021). The report found that many homes were not providing sufficient, high-quality, nutritious meals to their residents (Khan, 2021). In some homes, the food served had expired, and residents, on average, were waiting 24 to 43 minutes to get their meal (Khan, 2021). These findings from the ministry relate to the general meal plans that homes have for
The Ontario government has recognized the importance of nutrition in long-term care and the gross injustice that several long-term care homes have done regarding the lack of high-quality and proper meals. Therefore, in the 2021 “Fixing Long-Term Care Act,” the Government has created new regulations to increase the quality of care for its residents. These regulations that came into effect on July 11, 2022, include more variety and flexibility in menu planning, dietitian-approved menus, and increased individualization of meals for each resident (News Ontario, 2021). The Government is also “investing over $40 million in additional nutritional support funding for long-term care homes” to support the new regulations (News Ontario, 2022).
The Government’s support for improving the nutritional provisions in long-term care homes across Ontario is a critical step in the right direction. However, the fact that nutritional needs were being neglected and only systematically addressed in 2022 is unfortunate. While there are these new requirements, it is essential to continue working with your loved one’s long-term care home to ensure residents meals are not only in compliance with these requirements, but also nutritious and delicious to the residents living and dining in the home.
To learn more about the Fixing Long Term Care Act, I have attached two links here:
Khan, F. (2021, January 18). Ontario long-term care homes under fire for meals fed to residents.Yahoo Life. https://ca.style.yahoo.com/ontario-long-term-care-homes-under-fire-for-meals-fed-to-residents-174755691.html
Leitão, C., Mignano, A., Estrela, M., Fardilha, M., Figueiras, A., Roque, F., & Herdeiro, M. T. (2022). The effect of nutrition on aging—A systematic review focusing on aging-related biomarkers. Nutrients, 14(3), 554. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14030554
Ministry of Long-Term Care. (2019). Food and Nutrition in Long-Term-Care Homes. Office of the Auditor General of Ontario. https://www.auditor.on.ca/en/content/annualreports/arreports/en19/v1_305en19.pdf
News Ontario. (2022, April 8). Ontario newsroom. Ontario Newsroom. https://news.ontario.ca/en/release/1001982/ontario-giving-long-term-care-residents-more-nutritional-choices-and-variety