The needs of the fastest-growing part of the population are being overlooked, according to speakers at the recent National Association of Care Caterers conference. Amanda Afiya reports
TEXT: Forty-four thousand people in care homes in this country are at risk of malnutrition at any one time but, despite this staggering figure, the focus of Government and the media is only on obesity.
These comments from Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow at the National Association of Care Caterers (NACC) conference, held in Hinckley Island, Leicestershire, last month, were echoed by many speakers throughout the conference's two-day programme. He told the 250 delegates that there
had been a monumental shift in demographics and that there were now more people over 65 across the UK than under 16 - yet the elderly remained overlooked.
"The over-85s is the
fastest-growing part of the population, and yet they are disproportionately represented," he said. "This part of the population is set to explode in the future."
He lamented the fact that looking after mature citizens was met in this country with weariness, and added: "Seeing people living an active life for longer is a cause for celebration, but it is seen as a challenge in this country. I know that I have higher expectations of what care will look like when I need it."
Burstow said that the shift in demographics and the prolific levels of dementia among the elderly were fuelling an expansion in residential care. But he told delegates that care catering gave its customers an ability to enjoy fellowship and taste in the dining room and should give people choice and more independence.
However, he warned that a shift in standards alone was not enough to meet the needs of this sector of the catering industry. "There must be a change in culture, too. Part of the awareness campaign should be that getting older doesn't mean you lose weight - these things don't go hand in hand."
The feeding of people in residential care should be higher up the political agenda, he argued, and he asked the audience: "Where is our Jamie Oliver? There's no escaping the fact that Jamie Oliver did shift Government thinking and policy on the feeding of children in schools. But school meals represent one meal out of three for 33 weeks of the year. In care homes we're looking at three meals a day for the end of people's lives."
"It's a matter of life or death," he concluded. "It's time the Government listened and led the right mix of policy, best practice and best care for the people they are serving."
Speaking earlier in the day, Andrew Isaac, seniors and marketing director at Sodexho Healthcare, presented the findings of the Sodexho Research Institute's Grey Power report together with indicators from the Food in Later Life research programme.
Underlining Burstow's comments about the expansion of the seniors market, he told delegates that life expectancy was set to increase from 74.8 years in 1999 to 92.1 years in 2025, and growth in the number of over-65s would increase by 3.4% in the UK in that 26-year period.
Isaac said it was important that delegates understood the profile of the people in their care and the demographic mix. "While the needs and expectations among seniors may vary, they share a mix of four basic desires: independence, care, a normal life, and consideration; but their four basic needs, meanwhile, are assistance, integration, esteem and protection," he said.
He told delegates that the seniors market had been dubbed "the power age" - medical and technological advancements as well as people leading healthier lives means that the elderly are increasingly more able. "The elderly are no longer a uniform social category," he said, "but different ways of life are led by different populations. Ageing is no longer considered to be a restriction of quality of life since the two concepts are entirely independent of one another."
Isaac talked people through some of the results from the Food in Later Life programme, a three-year research project which was completed this year. The programme, which looked at the impact of food on the quality of daily life in old age, was funded by the EU and led by the University of Surrey with input from eight other European universities. Sodexho took on a commercial advisory support role in the project.
He said that a rise in consumerism, high-street awareness, strength of major brands, media profiling and numerous food-related TV shows have resulted in seniors expecting an increased service level from caterers. This progressively more discerning audience, he said, was looking for specific attitudes towards service, activities surrounding meal times and themed meals, quality food and healthier options, more choice and a pleasant environment in which to dine.
Speaking on the last day of the conference, Dr Louis Levy, head of nutrition policy and advice at the Food Standards Agency (FSA), presented the progress of the FSA's work on developing nutritional guidelines for care homes. "These are guidelines, not standards, for the care sector," he stressed. "This is advice only, as it may not be appropriate for everyone in care."
He said the guidelines would be complete in the next few weeks and, at a later stage, the FSA, working with organisations such as the NACC, would be in a position to issue nutrient and food-based examples of menus meeting target dietary recommendations.
CAPTION: Winner of the NACC National Meals on Wheels Day Marketing Award 2006 was Rainworth Meals Distribution Unit, part of Nottinghamshire County Council's Meals at Home service. With the 2005 Meals on Wheels Week
coming 60 years after VE Day and with the 200th commemoration of the Battle of Trafalgar falling in the same year, Nottinghamshire made victory the theme for its events last year. There was a wartime theme for staff, who dressed up and delivered meals in a Second World War army Jeep and handed out Red Cross food parcels
CAPTION: The NACC National Achievement Award 2006 went to Alison Pugh, training support and development officer at Hampshire County Council. Pugh has worked for Hampshire Social Services for 15 years and provides professional training, advice and support to social services managers and staff in domestic, laundry and catering issues
CAPTION: The NACC Chairman's Award went to Mary Wedge, meals manager for Essex County Council and NACC conference organiser, for her unstinting support of the NACC
CAPTION: The Northern region took the title of NACC Region of the Year Award for 2006
CAPTION: The final award of the evening went to outgoing chairman Roger Kellow. The NACC Recognition Award was given to Kellow for his outstanding contribution to the sector and the NACC
CAPTION: World record-breaking athlete Colin Jackson delivered a motivational speech at the end of the conference encouraging delegates to set realistic goals and visualise and focus on the end result, no matter what