quality of life

Using institutional foodservice to improve seniors’ quality of life

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By Kavita Sabharwal-Chomiuk

A recent study from Sodexo and the University of Ottawa Life Research Institute explores how the five senses impact the quality of life of residents living in long-term care communities.

Research found in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society finds that even though the population of seniors is rapidly growing, minimal awareness exists regarding the negative effects sensory impairments have on seniors that live in long-term care communities. A press release from researchers notes that 94 per cent of people will experience the diminishment of at least one of their senses, be it taste, smell, touch, sight or hearing as they age, if not more than one.

Because of this reality, Sodexo and the University of Ottawa study, How and Why the Five Senses Matter for Quality of Life, suggested a few strategies for long-term care communities to create what they call a sense-sensitive environment that will help create person-centred care for seniors. In addition, the research team on the study also developed an audit tool to help long-term care communities self-assess and improve their facility’s level of sense-sensitivity.

“Good care must begin with empathy,” said Marc Plumart, CEO of Sodexo Healthcare and Seniors Worldwide, in a press release. “This study helps senior care managers put themselves in the shoes of their residents to understand how they experience the world – which is different for those with diminished senses. By understanding their needs, they can design services and environments to improve quality of life.”

Improving the enjoyment of food through taste and smell

Humans have about 9,000 taste buds that detect sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (savoury) flavours, however the number of taste buds the average person has significantly declines between the ages of 40 and 50 in women, and between 50 and 60 in men. However, taste cells last for about 10 days and are regularly replaced throughout our lifespans.

In addition to their taste buds naturally diminishing over time, there may be other reasons why long-term care residents can’t seem to enjoy their food, including medications impacting their reception of taste; medical treatments; food temperature; the colour and appearance of food and place settings; the texture of the food; the variety of food available; the experience of the meal service; or residents’ requirements to eat a modified diet, such as one with low salt, for example.

The study points out that taste and smell work together, as the taste of food is often enhanced by the way it smells. As the sense of smell decreases with age, it can negatively impact the sense of taste.

Other reasons why the sense of taste may be diminished include the slowdown of saliva production with age, the use of dentures, less than optimal oral hygiene, certain medications, especially if they have been mixed into food, chronic illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, or certain treatments, such as radiation therapy.

When a resident experiences a decrease in the sense of taste, they can lose interest in food. In order to improve residents’ interest in and enjoyment of food, the study provided some recommendations that long-term care communities can adopt.

These recommendations include using quality ingredients in food, as well as attractive presentation and a texture that is safe for consumption, but also highlights and enhances the flavour of the food; using local, seasonal ingredients, where possible; employing trained kitchen/dietary staff; adhering to food safety standards for monitoring the temperature of food; and ensuring you are providing foods for residents that meet individual nutritional needs, such as energy requirements.

Enhancing the taste and smell of food can significantly improve the quality of life of residents in long-term care communities. To learn more or download the study, please click here.

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