Older people to get extra help at mealtimes

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THE Northern Health and Social Care Trust (NHSCT) are working in partnership with Age Concern Causeway to expand the volunteer mealtime companions in Causeway Hospital.

The Trust and Age Concern Causeway have recently trained Volunteer Mealtime Companions as it is widely recognised that good nourishment is vital for health and wellbeing, especially for those already ill. Undernourishment and dehydration can delay recovery from illness and cause longer stays in hospital as well as causing distress to individual patients and indeed their families.

The aim of the companions is to support the nursing staff to improve mealtime experiences and to encourage independence and dignity by providing that extra bit of help and companionship at mealtimes. Nurses continue to feed those patients who are so ill they cannot feed themselves, but the volunteer is able to spend enough time with other patients offering whatever help is required for them to enjoy their meal.

One volunteer befriended a patient whose poor vision resulted in her dinner looking like a fuzzy blob. Her right arm was paralysed and her left hand was disabled with arthritis which led to her feeling distressed and anxious about mealtimes. The volunteer made sure this patient was in a comfortable position to eat her meal. She then explained to the patient what was on her dinner plate, provided a ‘soft’ handled fork for a better grip and helped her to ‘load’ her fork and support her hand. This patient commented she was able to enjoy her meal because she did not have to struggle.

Volunteers with an age range of 17 – 70 plus describe their contribution as being very rewarding as they can see what a difference they can make to individual patients. They also appreciate having the opportunity to talk with older people about their past lives and their contribution to society and likewise the patients enjoy the undivided attention of the volunteer.

Alison Hume, Assistant Director Nursing Workforce and Development said: ”Our Nursing staff really welcome this valuable initiative for our patients allowing mealtimes to be a much more enjoyable social experience”

Both Age Concern Causeway and the Northern Trust are committed to this approach and are determined to advance the mealtime companion project to ensure all older people in their care are able to eat and drink enough in a dignified way. This is an excellent example of how the Trust and the voluntary sector can work together in partnership to improve patient care.