Academic on mission to improve care home food for dementia sufferers

A Sheffield Hallam University hospitality expert is on a mission to improve food and drinks for dementia patients living in care homes in the UK.

Norman Dinsdale, a former chef and senior lecturer in hospitality management at Sheffield Business School, is carrying out research in a bid to help care homes improve their food and beverage offer.

After interviewing caterers and managers at nine residential care homes and he found the average care home spends only £2.44 a day on food and drink for residents.

He also discovered simple measures, such as the physical environment in which patients ate, and using blue plates and red beakers, could make a big difference to how much food and drink they consumed.

Norman, who has spent over forty years in senior positions within the hospitality industry, said: “I was devastated to see several members of my family and extended circle of friends living and dying with dementia, some in care homes.

“Selfishly I feared that this might happen to me and the thought of an existence living on what I consider to be sub-standard food and service was not something I wished to contemplate, hence my interest in this area.

“For people living with dementia, nourishing food and drink is an essential requirement. I found there was plenty of information on nutrition, dietetics and nursing but zero on how caterers and nutritionists should work together.”

He said care home managers and staff were unsure about how to best feed dementia patients and were mainly concerned with getting the food cooked, plated up and in front of residents, regardless of whether or not they were hungry.

Norman said good quality homes, where the residents were self-funding, had the highest food and beverage budgets with one even including an allowance for wine with meals.

But the average daily food cost per resident was £2.44 – the recommended fair food cost for an average council-funded care home being £3.29 – in 2008.

He said: “This is not enough to adequately feed and hydrate a frail dementia patient whose only joy in the day is sitting down for something to eat.”Norman said other preliminary findings included managers lacking knowledge about how caterers and nutritionists could work together; little awareness about guidance in improving nutritional care for dementia patients in long term care homes; pureed food not being plated up attractively, and chefs being confused about the use natural of gelling agents which can be used to modify food texture for patients with swallowing (dysphagia) issues.

He said: “Despite past and current Government strategies to improve the nutritional intake for people living in care homes, surprisingly little research is being carried out into the operational, practical and staffing aspects of feeding these residents.

“The aim of my research was to understand how caterers can improve the services they offer in care homes whilst improving and maintaining their competitive edge; their unique service propositions and their profitability; and also to find out what steps are being taken in terms of creativity and innovation.

“Ultimately what I want is for more care homes to introduce better systems so that they can give the residents more to look forward to and improve their quality of life.”

Picture (c) Sheffield Hallam University.