Encouraging, assisting, and time to eat : comparison of mealtime assistance interventions in elderly medical inpatients

Young, Adrienne M. (2012) Encouraging, assisting, and time to eat : comparison of mealtime assistance interventions in elderly medical inpatients. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


BACKGROUND: The prevalence of protein-energy malnutrition in older adults is reported to be as high as 60% and is associated with poor health outcomes. Inadequate feeding assistance and mealtime interruptions may contribute to malnutrition and poor nutritional intake during hospitalisation. Despite being widely implemented in practice in the United Kingdom and increasingly in Australia, there have been few studies examining the impact of strategies such as Protected Mealtimes and dedicated feeding assistant roles on nutritional outcomes of elderly inpatients.

AIMS: The aim of this research was to implement and compare three system-level interventions designed to specifically address mealtime barriers and improve energy intakes of medical inpatients aged ≥65 years. This research also aimed to evaluate the sustainability of any changes to mealtime routines six months post-intervention and to gain an understanding of staff perceptions of the post-intervention mealtime experience.

METHODS: Three mealtime assistance interventions were implemented in three medical wards at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital:

AIN-only: Additional assistant-in-nursing (AIN) with dedicated nutrition role. PM-only: Multidisciplinary approach to meals, including Protected Mealtimes. PM+AIN: Combined intervention: AIN + multidisciplinary approach to meals.

An action research approach was used to carefully design and implement the three interventions in partnership with ward staff and managers. Significant time was spent in consultation with staff throughout the implementation period to facilitate ownership of the interventions and increase likelihood of successful implementation.

A pre-post design was used to compare the implementation and nutritional outcomes of each intervention to a pre-intervention group. Using the same wards, eligible participants (medical inpatients aged ≥65 years) were recruited to the preintervention group between November 2007 and March 2008 and to the intervention groups between January and June 2009. The primary nutritional outcome was daily energy and protein intake, which was determined by visually estimating plate waste at each meal and mid-meal on Day 4 of admission. Energy and protein intakes were compared between the pre and post intervention groups. Data were collected on a range of covariates (demographics, nutritional status and known risk factors for poor food intake), which allowed for multivariate analysis of the impact of the interventions on nutritional intake.

The provision of mealtime assistance to participants and activities of ward staff (including mealtime interruptions) were observed in the pre-intervention and intervention groups, with staff observations repeated six months post-intervention. Focus groups were conducted with nursing and allied health staff in June 2009 to explore their attitudes and behaviours in response to the three mealtime interventions. These focus group discussions were analysed using thematic analysis.

RESULTS: A total of 254 participants were recruited to the study (pre-intervention: n=115, AIN-only: n=58, PM-only: n=39, PM+AIN: n=42). Participants had a mean age of 80 years (SD 8), and 40% (n=101) were malnourished on hospital admission, 50% (n=108) had anorexia and 38% (n=97) required some assistance at mealtimes. Occasions of mealtime assistance significantly increased in all interventions (p<0.01). However, no change was seen in mealtime interruptions. No significant difference was seen in mean total energy and protein intake between the preintervention and intervention groups. However, when total kilojoule intake was compared with estimated requirements at the individual level, participants in the intervention groups were more likely to achieve adequate energy intake (OR=3.4, p=0.01), with no difference noted between interventions (p=0.29). Despite small improvements in nutritional adequacy, the majority of participants in the intervention groups (76%, n=103) had inadequate energy intakes to meet their estimated energy requirements. Patients with cognitive impairment or feeding dependency appeared to gain substantial benefit from mealtime assistance interventions. The increase in occasions of mealtime assistance by nursing staff during the intervention period was maintained six-months post-intervention.

Staff focus groups highlighted the importance of clearly designating and defining mealtime responsibilities in order to provide adequate mealtime care. While the purpose of the dedicated feeding assistant was to increase levels of mealtime assistance, staff indicated that responsibility for mealtime duties may have merely shifted from nursing staff to the assistant. Implementing the multidisciplinary interventions empowered nursing staff to "protect" the mealtime from external interruptions, but further work is required to empower nurses to prioritise mealtime activities within their own work schedules. Staff reported an increase in the profile of nutritional care on all wards, with additional non-nutritional benefits noted including improved mobility and functional independence, and better identification of swallowing difficulties.

IMPLICATIONS: The PhD research provides clinicians with practical strategies to immediately introduce change to deliver better mealtime care in the hospital setting, and, as such, has initiated local and state-wide roll-out of mealtime assistance programs. Improved nutritional intakes of elderly inpatients was observed; however given the modest effect size and reducing lengths of hospital stays, better nutritional outcomes may be achieved by targeting the hospital-to-home transition period. Findings from this study suggest that mealtime assistance interventions for elderly inpatients with cognitive impairment and/or functional dependency show promise.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 64410
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Daniels, Lynne, Banks, Merrilyn, & Mudge, Alison
Keywords: action research, aged, elderly, feeding, hospital, malnutrition, mealtimes, mixed-methods, nutritional intake, older adults
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 12 Nov 2013 05:50
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2017 14:48

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