Having family members at meals does not improve nursing home residents' food intake, study shows

Nursing home residents do not eat much more when their family members are present at mealtimes, even though caregivers provide more assistance, according to recently published study results.

The research involved 74 residents of six U.S. facilities, including two Veterans Affairs homes. The investigators were from Vanderbilt University and the VA Medical Center in Nashville, and the University of West Florida, in Pensacola, FL. Findings appear in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

Family member visitation was “infrequent” at mealtimes, the researchers found. When family was present, caregivers spent more time assisting residents, the researchers found. Provision of care went from less than eight minutes to more than 19 when family was there.

Despite this increased caregiver attentiveness, the presence of a family member did not have a “significant effect” on the amount of food eaten, the researchers discovered. The percent of the meal consumed increased from 53% to 58%.

They noted that the presence of family might improve a resident’s quality of life, even if there are no benefits related directly to food consumption.

The study results underscore the challenges in keeping residents properly fed. Globally, about 30% of nursing home residents with dementia are undernourished, according to a recent report from Alzheimer’s Disease International.