Researcher underscores importance of ‘social model of dining’ in LTC

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Heather Keller outlines how homes can enhance residents’ mealtime experiences

TORONTO – Mealtimes are important to long-term care residents and it is equally important residents are provided with meaningful dining experiences in their home, says Heather Keller, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Waterloo and research chair in nutrition and aging at the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging.

During a presentation at the OLTCA/ORCA Together We Care convention and trade show April 5, Keller underscored the importance of long-term care homes adopting a “social model of dining” to meet residents’ mealtime needs.

“A social model of dining care looks like family dining,” she said in an interview after her presentation. “(In a social model of dining) we feel welcomed, we feel we know the people that are there – they know us and we can participate socially to get the social interaction that we need.”

Mealtimes can be complex in long-term care homes. Residents have many different needs. Some require specific food textures. Residents have varying degrees of likes and dislikes when it comes to food. Some residents need assistance with feeding. On top of that, there are government regulations pertaining to food.

So, how can long-term care homes create a social model of dining, given these complexities? Keller says there are some basic principles all homes can use.

“If you go into a dining room and it doesn’t feel like a dining room – if it has an institutional feel to it – then that’s something that needs to change,” she said. “Homes could put up curtains, for example, or put up paintings on wall. You can put small things on the tables that make it look like a dining-room table. Those minor things can be done quite readily.”

She also suggests homes try to group residents with similar needs together during meals and include, if possible, residents who can be supportive of other residents at the table.

“Being able to make those individual changes is key,” she says.

While Keller said there needs to be more research conducted into the benefits of a social model of dining in long-term care, anecdotally she says homes using this model have said residents are eating better. Staff members are also reporting they’re happier because they’re not feeling as rushed when more time is allotted to provide residents with the dining experiences they want, Keller adds.

“There is (also) better quality of life for the residents, and I think people experience an increased sense of belonging, which is, perhaps, one of the most important things a meal can do.”

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