Using technology to ensure residents get enough nutrients and hydration .
By Tammy Sherwood
Certain considerations must always be contemplated before implementing changes to an environment where an elderly person resides , to ensure they are as comfortable , safe and happy as possible .
One area of growing concern is hydration and nutrition , which should be at the forefront of care practices year-round . According to Independence Australia , up to 10 to 44 per cent of older Australians are at risk of malnutrition , while a third of Australians admitted to hospital aged over 65 are malnourished . Of those living in aged care , between 20 to 65 per cent are malnourished and almost 75 per cent are at risk .
Health Direct Australia defines malnutrition as a health condition that develops when someone does not have enough nutrients to meet their body ’ s needs . It can happen over time if someone does not have enough food , if they do not eat the right types of food , or if their body cannot absorb enough nutrients from food .
Unfortunately , malnutrition amongst those residing in aged care facilities is often a hidden problem of which the consequences can be severe . In the worst cases , older people can become extremely ill and be admitted to hospital .
Thankfully , in recent years , we as a sector have an increased awareness of the symptoms of malnutrition and dehydration and strive to empower
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caregivers to detect them through digital care technology .
With digital care plans in the palm of their hands , carers and nurses can immediately see whether residents have had sufficient nutrients or fluids and take appropriate action . The fluid offered to residents , and the amount of fluid drunk in cups , for instance , is quickly evidenced at the point of delivery . Reminders to offer drinks or specific food groups can also be set up as part of a planned person-centred routine , with a traffic system of flags alerting staff to when a care task is due , or to a resident falling below the recommended nutrition / hydration threshold for the rolling 24-hour period .
Digital care plans can also measure the malnutrition risk of an individual by monitoring any unplanned weight loss , which automatically updates their body mass index on the system .
So , when the risk increases , caregivers can be alerted and take appropriate action to avoid that person becoming malnourished or dehydrated . Any action taken , whether that be foods or fluids , is then pulled through to the system so everyone can instantaneously see the individual ’ s real-time nutrition and fluid charts .
Monitoring a person ’ s oral health is another important factor to consider when avoiding malnutrition . For example , if a person is suffering from an injury to the mouth , then they will be less likely to eat and drink their daily intake as it could be uncomfortable and unpleasant . However , through the utilisation of technology , caregivers have the tools at their disposal to monitor and share sore or swallowing issues that contribute to how well someone can eat and drink . For example , someone with dysphagia may need to be put on a textured diet to ensure they get their required nutrients .
With all these risks to malnutrition , a score can then be given , which categorises an individual into low , medium , or high risk . This allows everyone with access to their care plans to instantly see who requires attention .
Again , it is all about being able to review someone ’ s needs by measuring all risk factors such as height , weight , age , allergies , medical conditions , etc . All data is pulled through the digital care management system , allowing caregivers to provide the appropriate level of person-centred care .
It is clear to see the benefits of technology – and care providers are quickly learning how its flexibility can drive improvements in ensuring that they understand the fundamental need for older people in Australia ’ s aged care system to get the appropriate nutrients and hydration required to live a healthy and happy life .
Overall , digital care technology allows aged care providers to get a full picture of an individual ’ s nutrition and hydration plan , which can be monitored and updated in real-time – something that simply isn ’ t possible with paper-based or outdated digital systems .
Going forward , digital care plans will be the benchmark for providing a holistic approach to care that ensures people working in aged care facilities have a significantly lower chance of dealing with malnutrition and dehydration . ■
Tammy Sherwood is the CEO of Person Centred Software Australia .