Jessica Shyu M.S., R.D., Senior Director of Nutrition & Wellness, Morrison Community Living

Like Bob Dylan sings, “The times they are a-changin.” This rings true for the senior living industry in particular, which has seen a major shift over the past decade as individuals move into retirement communities. Expectations have changed: Gone are the days of Jell-O and solitaire. Senior living communities now have world-class dining options and produce engaging activities for residents of all ages. 

Change extends to the “whole-person” experience, which means having services in place to fuel the mind, body and soul of residents. Every age and stage resident, whether in independent or skilled nursing, deserves the best care. This begins with what a person puts in his/her body.

Nourishment is key to growth and to maintaining a healthy immune system. This is critical in senior living, where many residents may have various health complications or conditions. Nutrition is especially important for residents with dementia.

Meal time can be a daunting, frustrating and overwhelming experience for these residents. This is for a myriad of reasons – too much noise, if the color of the plate is too dark or light, and the lighting in the room. And when someone is overwhelmed, they tend to lose focus and become agitated. This means residents with dementia may not eat during mealtimes, which means their body is not receiving the fuel it needs.

When it comes to nutrition for residents with dementia, getting a mix of nutrient rich, calcium and protein-packed food is critical to maintaining muscle mass and reducing bone loss.

A recent research study conducted by Compass Group North America [Morrison Community Living’s parent company], in conjunction with Alzheimer’s Disease International, explored the connections between nutrition and dementia. The findings highlight the link between nutrition and quality of life, untapped potential to improve outcomes for residents with dementia, and the prevalence of under nutrition and inadequate food intake in residents with dementia. The findings translated into action for Morrison Community Living, who has been working on specialized programs for their residents with dementia for years.

Grounded in a resident-centric approach to care, offerings include dignified dining, fortified foods and care partner training.

Dignified dining centers on making dining a positive experience for residents with dementia. It focuses on aspects of mealtime management – such as nutrition, hydration and dining environment – that vary depending on the resident. Needs of a resident with early-stage dementia may include forgetfulness, which can be addressed with simple choice offerings or comfort foods. Middle-stage dementia may bring failure to understand utensil usage, which can be addressed with finger foods. Late-stage dementia may bring swallowing impairments which can translate into modified foods, like puree or liquid diet. Some may also require engaging a fortified Foods program, which can infuse needed calories, proteins and other nutrients into items like soups, starches and sauces.

Once food preferences are identified, it’s important to create a safe and comfortable dining environment that limits distractions and noise, and also incorporates items like colored plates with contrasting table top for those with diminished contrast sensitivity. Key to all of this is the staff that support and care for these residents. This speaks to Care Partners Training, which is a training tool for both nursing and dining staff. It teaches cues to look for, appropriate responses to resident behavior, food safety responsibility and overall hospitality.

For senior living residents, the community is their home. Patience and compassion are two traits you will always find top of the list in terms of attributes for those caring for residents with dementia. Whether a chef, dietitian or dining director, creating a safe and comfortable environment is critical to help all residents live their best.

This philosophy of helping residents live their best underscores Morrison Community Living’s purpose:  To enrich the lives of seniors every day. This is a combination of many things – but above all it’s taking a sincere interest in those we serve. It’s understanding that things must be adjustable and being willing to take the time or go the extra step to ensure a positive experience. For our residents with dementia, we know that every meal counts and that it is our responsibility to ensure they receive the proper nutrition in whatever form that may be. Just as we at Morrison live our purpose each day, we look forward to continuing to innovate, invest and influence the market to ensure that residents with dementia experience each day and enjoy every moment.

Jessica Shyu, M.S., R.D. is the senior director of nutrition and wellness at Morrison Community Living.