Digital Care Home Technology
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How tech is helping care homes tailor and track personal nutrition plans

Image credit: Person Centred Software

Digital care technology is establishing a new benchmark for a holistic approach to making sure that older people avoid potentially dangerous malnutrition and dehydration.

This year’s UK Malnutrition Awareness Week, which runs from 11 to 17 October, sees a spotlight being shone once again on the fundamental need for older people in care to get the nutrients and hydration they require to live a healthy and happy life. But while awareness weeks like these are crucial to providing a greater understanding of the dangers, risk factors and signs of malnutrition and dehydration in social care, they should be at the forefront of care practices year-round.

According to the British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, malnutrition is a significant public health problem that affects over 10 per cent of people over the age of 65 – roughly 1.3 million people. The BAPEN also suggests that around 35 per cent of care home residents are at risk of malnutrition.

Age UK defines malnutrition and nutritional risks as being low bodyweight, unintended weight loss, or poor recent nutritional intake. Older people are more at risk due to factors including physiological changes, poor appetite, practical difficulties, poorer mental and oral health, and acute or chronic illness.

Unfortunately, malnutrition amongst care home residents is, all too often, a hidden problem of which the consequences can be severe. In the worst cases, older people can become extremely ill and have to be admitted to hospital. Thankfully, not only is awareness of the symptoms increasing, but the emergence of digital care technology is empowering caregivers to detect them more promptly.

With digital care plans in the palms of their hands, carers and nurses can immediately see which residents have not had sufficient nutrients or fluids and take appropriate action. The amount of fluid offered to residents, and the precise volume they have actually drunk, for instance, is quickly evidenced at the point of delivery. Reminders to offer drinks or specific food groups can be set up as part of a planned, person-centred care routine, with a traffic light system of flags alerting staff to when a care task is due, or to a resident falling below the recommended nutrition/hydration threshold for the rolling 24-hour period.

Digital care plans can also measure the malnutrition risk of an individual by monitoring unplanned weight loss, which automatically updates their body mass index on the system.

When risk increases, caregivers can be alerted and take appropriate action to avoid malnutrition or dehydration. Any action they take, whether offering food or fluids, is then pulled through to the system so everyone can instantaneously see up-to-date nutrition and fluid charts in real time.

Monitoring a person’s oral health is another important factor in avoiding malnutrition. For instance, if a person’s mouth is injured, they will be less likely to eat and drink. Through digital care technology, a caregiver can monitor and share sore or swallowing issues that contribute to how well someone can eat and drink. For example, someone who has difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) may need to be put on a textured diet to ensure they get their required nutrients.

A score categorises an individual according to whether they are at low, medium or high risk of malnutrition. This allows everyone with access to the care plans to instantly see who requires attention. Again, it is about being able to review someone’s needs by measuring all risk factors such as height, weight, age, allergies and medical conditions. Pulling all the relevant data through a digital care management system helps caregivers provide the appropriate level of person-centred care.

Overall, digital care technology allows care providers to get a full picture of an individual’s nutrition and hydration plan that can be monitored and updated in real-time – something that just isn’t possible with paper-based or outdated digital systems. Going forward, such plans will be the benchmark for providing a holistic approach to care that ensures people in social care have a significantly lower chance of having to deal with malnutrition and dehydration.

Jonathan Papworth is the co-founder and director of Person Centred Software.

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