Unwanted Weight Gain in Aged Care Facilities

While most of the referrals for dietitian input in aged care facilities relates to unwanted weight loss, dietitians can be asked for input with residents who have unwanted weight gain.

What is overweight?

For many adults we use the Body Mass Index as a basis for identifying a ‘healthy weight range’.  The BMI is a ration of the person’s height to their weight.  (kg/m²)  The BMI is not without its limitations, but generally it is a useful tool in assessing if someone is within the recommended weight range (BMI 20 – 25kg/m²), below it (underweight and malnourished) or above it (overweight and obese).  For older adults, the ‘healthy weight range’ tends to shift upwards.  There is evidence older adults with a BMI between 22 – 27 kg/m², have a longer life expectancy.  There is evidence that older adults who have unwanted weight loss will reduce their life expectancy.

What is the aim?

The first question to ask is whether this weight gain is a cause for health concern, and if there are benefits gained from weight loss.  In some cases weight gain may lead to reduced mobility, worsening blood sugar control, exacerbation of shortness of breath and gastric reflux, problems in fitting clothes, problems with ill-fitting hoists, chairs, and increased difficulty with transfers.  If it agreed that weight loss would be beneficial, the first nutritional goal is to prevent further weight gain.  Aim to stabilise the current weight.  Weight loss may be the next goal once weight stabilisation is achieved.

How much weight to lose?

Stabilising the current weight is a good start.  If weight loss is desired, set a realistic weight goal with the resident.  Health benefits are noticeable with as little as 5% weight loss.  A 85kg woman losing around 4kg should notice some benefits.

The goal of weight loss it to be losing body fat, not body muscle.  If weight loss is too rapid, the risk is that significant muscle mass is lost.  This can lead to worse health outcomes.

Involving the resident who has unwanted weight gain

A discussion with the resident about whether they are noticing any effects from the weight gain, and whether they would like to try and prevent gaining more weight, is essential.  It may be useful to explain the expected health benefits possible with weight loss. Family may also like to be consulted, but the decision and the motivation really needs to come from the resident.

Just telling a resident they need to lose weight, or automatically changing their diet is not treating a resident with respect, nor providing care that is tailored to their needs.  You may feel that the ‘best’ option would be to lose weight. The resident may feel different. They have the right to choose what’s right for them.

What strategies may help unwanted weight gain?

Losing weight is hard.  There needs to be a reduction in the energy intake with an increase in energy output.  Changes to food and changes to levels of activity are needed for optimal results.  Activity and body movement are important in helping to maintain muscle mass.  The diet still needs to remain nutritionally adequate, especially in terms of protein to minimise the loss of body protein too.  Continue to offer quality protein foods, at main meals and tea meals.

An aged care facility menu is nutritionally balanced and tailored to ensure the nutritional needs of the residents are met.  Talk with the resident about what ideas they might be happy to try to help reduce their food intake.  Small changes eventually add up to significant calorie reduction.  Start with changing one or two things only in the diet.  If that is successful, add in other small changes.

Reducing Food Intake

  • Target between meal snacks such as morning tea, and/or afternoon tea. If the resident is not hungry at these times, he or she may be able to skip the food offered
  • Limit sweet drinks; offer water, ‘diet’ options and a sugar replacement in hot drinks
  • Reduce the frequency of desserts in the week, or offer lower calorie options such as fresh fruit, diet jelly, low fat yoghurt. Limit the use of cream on desserts.
  • Ensure the size of the main meal is a medium meal (not large), serve extra vegetables if the resident is wanting more food.
  • Look at the quantity of food eaten at meals. Reducing the amount slightly can help.
  • Target the amount eaten at ‘happy hours’ and other treat times
  • Try to encourage the resident to limit the amount of extra foods they may be buying and having in their room
  • Ask family and friends not to bring in food items. Suggest other options such as magazines, books, photo albums, flowers

Increasing activity levels

  • Encourage the resident to join in the home’s activities
  • Encourage the resident to walk more if possible, around the home, to the dining room, around the garden – short distances at first so they gain a sense of achievement
  • Family and friends may be able to help by joining the resident in walks or taking them on outings too

These are some ideas to try.  For more information and tailored nutritional advice contact your clinical dietitian.  If the resident is ready to make some changes, offer support and encouragement, to help enable their success.  Be positive.  As with all of us, sometimes we deviate from our own ‘diet’; we have a treat or a dessert or a second helping.  Don’t judge residents, or be so strict with restricting foods.  Avoid using phrases that suggest the resident is ‘being good’ or ‘being naughty’ in terms of whether they are following the agreed diet plan.  There are no ‘good’ foods and ‘bad’ foods.  And finally, weight loss takes time.  Simply stalling the weight increase is a significant achievement.  Long term encouragement and support is essential for successful and sustained weight loss.

Article contributed by: Liz Beaglehole (NZ Registered Dietitian), Canterbury Dietitians

liz@canterburydietitians.co.nz

Falls – When is a fall not a fall?

Is a slip off a chair or off the side of the bed onto the floor a fall?  Is a ‘controlled lowering’ by a staff member of a resident to the floor a fall?

When recording adverse events such as falls, it’s important for the purposes of consistent reporting and bench-marking that the same definition is used to define a ‘fall’.  We suggest using the definition provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which states “A fall is defined as an event which results in a person coming to rest inadvertently on the ground or floor or other lower level.”  The WHO falls prevention guidelines also report that “Globally, falls are a major public health problem. An estimated 424 000 fatal falls occur each year, making it the second leading cause of unintentional injury death, after road traffic injuries.”  

Working in aged care related services means you are interacting on a daily basis with those in the high risk category for falls. WHO also report for example, in the United States of America, 20–30% of older people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as bruises, hip fractures, or head traumas. The Health Quality and Safety Commission New Zealand reportfor every fall in hospital, there are five in aged residential care and another 40 at home and in the community. Between 2010 and 2012, a total of 200 people fell while in hospital care and broke their hips.

The HCSL QA online bench-marking includes tracking of falls and falls related injuries so educating your staff to become familiar with the definition is important in ensuring data collected is accurate. Accurate data measurements also allow you to be aware of your start point for quality improvement projects which can then be measured at the end of a project to measure the degree of improvement.

In answer to the questions posed at the start of this article, if we apply the WHO definition, then both should be classified as falls.  For those of you using the HCSL policy and procedure system, refer to the Falls Prevention Programme (document CS19) for more information on falls prevention.

Taking things for granted….

I ate the best crispest, crunchiest, juiciest, rosiest, sweetest most marvellous apple while I was driving home last night after attending a seminar. I had put it in my bag earlier for just such an occasion and it really was the very best apple.

You might be wondering why I’m writing about eating an apple. Well the point is I can eat an apple. I can eat an apple while driving a car. No-one should drink and drive and we are not allowed to text and drive but eating an apple while driving is still allowed.

The reason it was good to eat this most marvellous apple was that in order to eat it I first had to achieve a whole range of things. I had to have the money to pay for this crunchy crisp apple which confirms I have the financial reserves to not only pay for the petrol and maintenance for my car but also to pay for this beautiful rosy apple. I had to also remember that I liked apples along with remembering where the supermarket was to buy that most marvellous apple. I then had to recall where I’d parked my car and have the mental competence to get myself and my car and my apple out of the car-park and heading for home.

This all takes having an intact mind so I find it rather encouraging and reassuring that my mind seems to be working just fine.
To be able to eat this delicious thirst quenching juicy apple I had to have physical strength to drive my car and walk into the shop, buy the apple and walk with ease back to my car without getting short of breath in order to drive home. I had to have the muscular strength in my legs to walk, use the foot controls in my car with ease and have the physical reactions to stop in a hurry if I had to. All this being achieved while enjoying a gift of natures food, my wonderful apple. The hand dexterity needed to hold and manoeuvre that apple so I could bite the piece I wanted while steering the car was also something I take for granted. I realise I take for granted having healthy teeth to munch and crunch that beautiful apple. This all confirms my body and mind seem to still be functioning with strength and ease which I am very grateful for.

As I savoured every mouth full of this delectable apple while driving home tonight I wondered if when I’m 80 or 90 years old I will still be able to do this most enjoyable feat. I thought of all the things that must function for me to buy apples year after year. Will I have the ability to drive my car and walk into the supermarket and pick the nicest looking apple, pay for it and eat it with my natural teeth? Oh I do hope so.

To increase my odds of repeating this enjoyable drive home devouring delicious mouth full by delicious mouth full of apple, I decide I will need to take good care of myself. I will need to make sure I keep up my physical strength through regular exercise and eat a good diet to maintain a healthy weight. I will need to look after my eyesight with regular eye checks. I will remember to take regular visits to the dental hygienist and look after my teeth. I will manage my finances and enjoy reading books, socialising and learning new things to keep my mind active. And yes, I will continue to hope that with all the right self-cares and a bit of luck, when I am 80 or 90 years old I will be able to go to the supermarket to pick out the very best apple.