Better Care For The Elderly

Better Care For The Elderly

Good food and enjoyable mealtimes matter for everyone, no matter the age. For older people in particular, food can have a significant role to play in promoting health and well-being.

“1.3 million people over 65 suffer from malnutrition placing significant strain on the NHS. Meanwhile, two fifths of all older people say that the television is their main source of company,” says James Cashmore, Director of Food for Life.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With the help of a £1.25 million grant from the Big Lottery Fund, The Soil Association’s Food for Life Better Care programme is planning to use good food to help with isolation and improve the nutrition of older people.

With the help of local health providers, national NGOs, and volunteer organizations, the Soil Association will work in care homes, the community, and hospitals. This project was spurred on by older people themselves who missed good food and community engagement in their lives. Older people will continue to play an important part in the development of the Food for Life Better Care project as they collaborate with programme coordinators in three trial areas across the UK – in Edinburgh, Calderdale & Kirklees and Leicester & Leicestershire.

Improving health while saving money

For initial research, the Soil Association spoke with many older people. One 80-year-old gentleman spent most of 2014 in hospital due to a knee replacement and lost two stone. He did not like the hospital food and was not comfortable asking for the help he needed to eat. He is a vital man who spent his life inventing, fixing, and travelling. The quality and service of the hospital food did not let him maintain his sense of dignity, or eat as much as he needed. Malnutrition among the elderly and the health problems associated with a bad diet put further strain on the already stretched NHS.

Good food is simple but powerful medicine. The Better Care project will use healthy food to combat health problems associated with ageing, aid recovery from illness, and reduce hospital admissions and the length of hospital stays. As Angela Mitchell, Food for Life Scotland Director says, “if we give older people better food choices… then they will be less susceptible to malnutrition and isolation, and they will enjoy a better quality of life.”

Building community, building resilience

The benefits of good food go far beyond nutrition. Growing, cooking, and eating food can increase older people’s resilience through a sense of purpose and belonging in their community.

Almost half of all older people in care homes are depressed. Isolation and loneliness have a higher mortality rate than smoking.  The Soil Association interviewed a friendly woman in her 70s who knows this loneliness too well. Although she has a wonderful web of family and friends, she still spends lots of time on her own. Food is deeply connected to her spirituality, sense of self, and love of life. Until recently, she was an integral part of her spiritual community and cooked for hundreds of people at retreats, but she has slowed down in the last few years due to a fall. She was lucky enough to get a spot in an assisted living facility. She cooks for the other community members sometimes, but finds it increasingly difficult to cook for crowds, and even herself, as she gets older. She does not like the foods available through her care home because it does not represent her culturally and spiritually. The Better Care programme will work with local volunteer organizations to create more opportunities like her assisted living home for people to connect with their community and share their culinary talents. The programme will also train carers to understand how important food is and help people find solutions so they can have food that is representative of who they are.

Bridging generations, inspiring innovation

The Better Care programme will connect different generations.  The Soil Association is uniquely placed to use food to connect generations. They developed the Food for Life schools programme in 2003, and have been getting students and teachers fired up about good food ever since. The Soil Association now plans to link up students with the elderly to share food, growing, cooking, and of course stories.

The goal of the Better Care programme is to get policy makers to take good food seriously. On the ground, the programme will help train care home staff to understand all the great things that food can do for older people. As Joanna Lewis, Food for Life Strategy Director says, “Good food has the power to transform lives and should be at the heart of everything we do.”

Learn more about the Better Care project and the people it helps.