When people aren’t feeling well, their appetite often falls by the wayside. However, it’s no secret that to support healthy body functions, it’s vitally important to maintain a balanced, healthy diet and to keep drinking water. 

Sue Hutton, our Day Care Unit Manager, explains how we provide and develop key practices to ensure our patients are optimally nourished and hydrated while they are in our care. 

Little and often

We know if we present someone with a large meal when they don’t have a good appetite, they are not going to eat very much at all. We focus on small portions on a regular basis rather than expecting someone to eat a large meal two or three times a day. It’s about fuelling the body to operate at its optimum level for as long as possible. Remember the message of small portions on a regular basis is better than overwhelming someone with big meals. 

Understanding the needs of patients

We always check whether our patients have allergies and if they require a special diet; be that vegan, kosher or halal. All of those who serve food, including our volunteers, are trained to be aware of such things and so are the kitchen staff. When we’re ordering food for patients we know they’re getting the things they are able and want to eat. 

Give them a choice

We want our patients to want to eat the food we provide for them. We always try and offer them something they’ll like and they have a choice of portion sizes. In the day centre, patients order what they’d like for lunch when they arrive. If they want something that is not on the menu then we can speak to the Chef and ask if they can do something on request. For instance, we had a recent request from a patient who didn’t want anything on the menu but did have a craving for a smoked salmon sandwich. We rang the kitchen and 10 minutes later the sandwich arrived. We’re working closely with our Executive Chef to ensure we’re able to provide patients more choice away from the ‘á la carte’ menu. 

Educate people to eat well

It’s always a challenge with older people who may only know the bones of good nutrition.  If you live on your own and you’re not feeling great, you don’t always want to cook yourself a meal. We try and support by ordering ready-made food which can be delivered to their homes. During hot weather, we’re always reminding patients to drink more than usual to keep hydrated. It’s very easy to dehydrate quickly. 

Keep an eye out for malnourishment 

Whenever someone comes to the Hospice we always do a risk assessment of their nutritional status. We look at their body mass index and if they’ve had any acute illnesses. We also check to see if they’ve recently experienced weight loss. These checks give us a score that in turn alerts us as to whether a patient needs to speak to a dietician to get nutritional advice. We have a dietician who visits patients in the day centre and in the Hospice. But we’ve also got community dieticians who can visit people in their own homes. For example, cancer patients in the later stages can become very cachectic. So you want to maximise every opportunity for nutrition. 

Spot the signs

There are some really easy signs that we could all keep an eye out for. If in any real doubt, just ask them. What did you have to eat and drink yesterday? Is that the same as you’d usually eat or is it less?  

If you’re visiting someone you think might be vulnerable, check if they’ve got food in the fridge and groceries in their cupboards.