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Offering Choice to Older Adults Yields Positive Results

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Sep 26, 2018 11:07:14 AM

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As people age, the ability to remain independent in their homes and make decisions regarding their care may diminish. The causes may be due to physical reasons such as medical conditions or cognitive dysfunction. Social determinants of health, like safety in the home, community support, or economic status, also impact an older person’s autonomy and quality of life.

A recent study looked at the effectiveness of home care services when the recipient was given the freedom to choose their services. The assumption is making choices regarding their home services will impact their quality of life. The researchers focused on five freedom-of-choice variables:

  • Influencing the services received
  • Selecting their home care worker
  • Choosing the day of the home care worker’s visit
  • Picking the day for house cleaning
  • Choosing the meal they desired

While three of these variables had an impact, the variable that had the strongest correlation to the effectiveness of home care and quality of life was being able to select the meal they desired. The other two variables were being able to choose the days for house cleaning and the care worker’s visit.

When I worked for hospitals, meals received during a hospitalization impacted the patients’ overall perception of their care and satisfaction with the hospital. Patients felt they couldn’t control the care they received or even know if they were receiving proper care. However, they were experts in food and knew if it tasted good or not. Allowing patients to eat what they want at the time they want it, led many hospitals to implement room service models. Room service meals significantly improved the patient experience at the hospital.

The traditional model for congregate and home-delivered meals is to serve only one menu option, typically a hot meal, at a specified time. Special diets and preferences are not accommodated. The silent generation was fine with this system. However, baby boomers want more. Like hospital patients, they care if the food tastes good or not. They want variety, flexibility, and multiple options. They want an improved experience. While many Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) are encouraging their providers to increase their menu offerings, providers are struggling to offer choice with their limited funding and staff.

Changing from the traditional model to the choice model might seem daunting. Here are some ways to incorporate options into your meals program.

Start with Minor Tweaks

  • Increase your beverage options. Offer a variety of juices and milk. Provide sweet and unsweet tea. Have flavored creams available for coffee.
  • Offer regular and no sugar options for fruits and desserts.
  • Add chopped and ground entrees for those with chewing difficulties.

Try Something Different

  • Offer a vegetarian meal as an alternative.
  • If your home-delivered meals are daily hot meals, add an option for clients to receive weekly frozen meals. Baby boomers like the flexibility of weekly deliveries.
  • For congregate dining, offer a meal during a different time, like breakfast or supper, once or twice per month.
  • Add the option of a second entrée on specified days, like Two on Tuesday.

Offer an Alternate Entrée Every Day

  • Keep frozen meals on hand for a replacement meal. If a menu item doesn’t appeal to the client, allow them to request an alternate meal.
  • Offer two entrée options, but keep the side items and beverages the same. Provide clients with a menu the week or two before serving and have them circle the entrees they want in advance. Many providers make the second meal option a cold entrée like a sandwich or salad.

GA Foods’ SunMeadow® frozen meals and SimpleCookTM technology make offering a choice of meals to your clients painless while increasing their satisfaction with your service. Learn more here:

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Topics: Nutrition, Senior Nutrition, Baby Boomers

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