“Training home care workers in giving nutritional advice to older clients offers opportunities”

Home care workers are motivated to provide nutritional advice to older clients and to support them in making healthy choices. They do need extra knowledge for this, and time to guide people. This is the conclusion of researchers from Wageningen University & Research (WUR) after an exploratory study carried out within the PPP project Healthy nutrition in care and catering: implementation of nutritional interventions in intramural care institutions.

Better health, a higher quality of life and, as a result, the ability to live independently at home for longer: it also pays to eat healthy at a later age. Yet many elderly people living at home in our country do not eat according to the guidelines, according to the Food Consumption Survey of 2010-2012. The consumption of vegetables, fruit, whole grain products and dairy leaves much to be desired. “Many elderly people do not realize how important healthy food is. They often do not know what it exactly means,” says Lonneke Janssen Duijghuijsen, researcher Nutrition & Health at Wageningen University & Research. “With low-threshold nutritional advice, a lot of health benefits can probably be achieved in this group.”

Nutritional advice
With this in mind, a research team from Wageningen University & Research made an inventory of whether nutritional advice can be included in the home care that municipalities offer the elderly. The researchers trained domestic care workers (HV’ers) from two home care organizations – De Zorgzaak and PGVZ – in how they could support their clients in making healthy food choices. They also identified factors that stimulated or hindered them in practice. They did this on the basis of a questionnaire among more than 600 home care employees – domestic helpers, carers and social counselors – throughout the Netherlands.

A large majority of home care workers (60-86%) are motivated to provide clients with nutritional advice and support them in making healthy choices. Surprisingly, only 20% expect clients to be open to it. About half (40-60%) even think that people are not interested in nutritional advice at all. Nevertheless, 30-40% believe that they can positively influence the behavior of clients.

More knowledge
Domestic workers who have followed the training to provide nutritional advice indicate that clients have actually been helped with the information and tips they give. The answers to the questionnaire also show that 66% of the (social) counselors and 61% of the carers already think they have sufficient knowledge to give clients tips and information about a healthy eating and drinking pattern. This percentage is somewhat lower at 44% for domestic helpers.

Social counselors and carers are more positive about giving nutritional advice than domestic workers. In this group, only 23-41% think that giving nutritional advice is not feasible in terms of time, compared to just under 60% among the domestic workers.

Eye for obstacles
“We expect that social counselors and carers can help elderly people living at home with healthier eating,” says Marieke Meeusen, project leader of the PPP research and affiliated with Wageningen University & Research. “It is important to pay attention to the most frequently mentioned obstacles among clients. They think, for example, that healthy food is not tasty or is too expensive. Tips and tasty recipes could break down those barriers,” says Meeusen. Clients also indicate in home care that they do not enjoy cooking and eating alone (loneliness) and are often dependent on the meal service. Making them aware of initiatives in their neighbourhood, for example to eat and cook together, can then help.

Local Prevention Agreement
Carly Craanen, Health and Welfare policy director at the Municipality of Meppel: “We are happy with how this research went and with the results. It was a challenge to successfully complete this study in times of corona, when a lot was asked of healthcare staff. Our compliments for that. The study shows that training healthcare staff not only benefits the care recipient, but also employees themselves: it gives them insight into their own behavior and diet. The study also teaches us that maintaining training is advisable for the self-confidence of the care provider. We have included the results in our local Prevention Agreement. The initiative is to cook with the elderly, to start a conversation with them about healthy eating and making choices, and to discuss We offer a boosting budget from the local Prevention Agreement. The intention is that this will become a permanent part of Meppel Actief. That is due to mental fitness and w respectability of the elderly.”

Source: WUR

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