Nutrition and aging: Why aren't older adults eating well?

Would you rather receive lukewarm food served on a hospital tray or order takeout from a menu created just for you?

The choice is obvious – and if Heather Keller had her way, more long term care homes in Canada would give residents access to innovative eating options like restaurant-style food service.

It just makes sense, explains the kinesiology professor and Schlegel Research Chair in Nutrition and Aging. Poor nutrition is rampant is Canada’s long term care homes—and inadequate food and liquid intake is often to blame.

Heather Keller

Heather Keller, kinesiology professor at the University of Waterloo.

“We know that food intake in long-term care tends to be poor. But what we don’t know is why,” said Keller. “Is the food unappealing? Is the setting institutional? Are residents having physical trouble eating?”

These are the questions Keller hopes to answer in a pioneering new study spanning four provinces and 32 long-term care homes.

Study will examine why older adults aren’t eating

Keller recently received $979,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to fund the complex project, which will require teams of researchers to monitor the food intake patterns of 800 randomly selected long-term care residents.

The project’s goal is to link eating patterns with factors like meal quality, food access and mealtime experience to pinpoint exactly what deters older adults from eating.

“It’s not just one thing impacting food intake.  If we can understand broadly what is happening, what are the big deterrents to food intake, we can successfully intervene on a large scale,” said Keller

The project marks the first time factors impacting food intake in long-term care settings have ever been investigated comprehensively. The findings are expected to help optimize health care practices and enhance the quality of life of Canada’s aging population.

“Poor food intake is both preventable and treatable,” said Keller. “But it’s about so much more than simply nutrition; it’s about quality of life.”