With research revealing one in two aged care residents are undernourished, Bond University on the Gold Coast has announced its involvement in a study, known as The Lantern Project, which aims to improve the nutrition and health of older Australians.
The Lantern Project is a three year research program that will be undertaken by dietician and columnist Cherie Hugo, who has just begun her PhD in Nutrition and Dietetics at Bond University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine.
Ms Hugo’s aim is to shine a light on the issue of food in the aged care sector and how it can be improved.
Three Gold Coast aged care facilities, along with a number of others across Queensland and New South Wales will be involved, with more being invited to participate.
The study has already had its first celebrity endorsement, with renowned cook and author Maggie Beer backing the research as part of the new Maggie Beer Foundation, which was launched in South Australia this week.
Bond University Nutrition and Dietetics program head, Professor Liz Isenring, is a project member on The Lantern Project and was also announced as one of eight professionals from around the country on the board of the Maggie Beer Foundation this week.
Along with supporting The Lantern Project, The Maggie Beer Foundation is piloting its program in South Australia with education and aged care facilities, to enhance the delivery of food and wellbeing approaches in aged care.
Professor Isenring said both projects were major steps forward in improving the health and quality of life of the elderly, which was a complex issue.
"There has been extensive research conducted across the public and private sector in Australia that shows one in two aged care residents are undernourished due to a range of factors, such as lack of appetite, not enjoying the food they are provided with and complications from multiple medical conditions," she said.
"This poor nutrition leads to associated issues such as pressure ulcers, falls and an increased risk of hospitalisation, but it is not an inevitable part of aging; by improving nutrition we can improve quality of life in many ways.
"The focus of both projects is not on showing which aged care facilities aren't doing well, but rather highlighting those who are doing fantastic things and encouraging others to make similar improvements."
Professor Isenring said the average aged care facility had just $6 a day to spend per person for all meals and snacks, and The Lantern Project would delve into the cost and benefit of increasing this amount.
"We will be undertaking some sophisticated health economics to highlight the fact food should not be seen as a cost that can easily be cut back on, but as important to health as hygiene or medication," she said.
"We are hoping to come up with a dollar value on the savings that can be made in these areas by lifting the dollar value of what is spent on providing good quality food.
"We believe even adding an extra dollar or two a day could make a dramatic difference and are hoping the findings will help influence policy decision makers in this regard.
"At the same time, we want to get the message across that it doesn't take a lot of money to produce good quality food if you use fresh produce and the right ingredients.
"We will be working with aged care centres to show them how they can better achieve this."
Professor Isenring said the study would also look beyond food to associated aspects of the dining experience.
"We will be considering things like ambiance, music and introducing proper napkins. Basically, how to make dining a really enjoyable time," she said.
"In aged care facilities, a lot of things are taken away but food is something people have control and choice over. They can talk about it and look forward to it, so it can really make a difference in quality of life.
"The current generation in aged care have a tendency not to complain, but the baby boomer generation are unlikely to be as accepting. They are used to a lot more choice and will be more demanding, so there has never been a more important time to take a good hard look at this issue."