Magic wafers may keep residents healthy

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

Most people have some quirky food issue, whether it's gagging at the smell of fish or a hatred of condiments. I'll confess mine: I detest raw apples. Apple cider, applesauce, apple pie — they're all OK. But start slicing a regular apple in front of me or bite into one, and it's all I can do to not run out of the room. It's a texture issue, perhaps stemming from years in braces where I felt like I looked like Hannibal Lecter and developed a high level of nerve sensitivity in my teeth.

These types of problems, weird as they sound, often increase in the senior population. Depression can cause a loss of appetite, and a decrease in an ability to smell also can weaken the desire to eat. Even foods that a resident used to like can be met with an unenthusiastic response. It's likely this relates to an inability to chew, which, I suspect, is one of the reasons why news about Protibis wafers was a big event among McKnight's readers this week.

The study of the wafers was straightforward: Nursing home residents who ate eight Protibis wafers a day gained back more than 1.5% of their prior body mass while a control group continued to lose weight. The wafers appear to have helped with residents' diarrhea and improved their appetites, and there may even be a correlation to lower prevalence of pressure ulcers.

It shouldn't be a surprise that this study is out of France, a place known for caring about food. It does, however, mean that I couldn't easily snag the wafers to test them out.

But looking at the ingredients and the description of them as “high-protein and high-energy cookies” I'm going to guess they taste similar to a soft vanilla wafer, a recipe for which can be found here.

What is provocative about the study is that the authors throw out an idea in their conclusion, writing that the stimulation of touch, such as finger food and chewing, may get nursing home residents to eat even if they don't have teeth. Similarly, the sound of eating might provoke hunger, giving an alternative to those who have lost sight, smell or even taste.

In a comment in a blog I wrote earlier this month about high-end dining services and how they can attract clients, the president/co-founder/chef at Grind Dining, Sarah Gorham, noted that residents with dementia “cannot successfully use utensils or chew their food and are excluded from experiencing the same level of dining satisfaction due to a cognitive or physical disorder. It is isolating and unfair to deny them the same tasty food as their table-mates simply because they have lost their ability to hold a fork, or wield a knife.” The company's services include a Finger Food toolkit, which could be worth exploring if you can't snag those French wafers.

And lest you think that dietary services is a soft issue, remember a case from 2013 that resulted in $28 million in fines. The residents in question were allegedly suffering from a wide array of problems, including malnourishment. It's worth investing time to figure out a solution.

Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight's, and really hopes this Halloween doesn't involve bobbing for apples. Follow her @TigerELN.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.