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MP Photo1, Abbott: A new study shows that implementing a nutrition care plan for patients in home healthcare that included nutritional drinks reduced 90-day hospitalizations by 18 percent.

Gretchen VanDerBosch grabs a nutritional shake from a stockroom.,As a clinical dietitian at Advocate Health Care, she screens hospital patients for malnutrition and says implementing a structured nutrition care plan in different healthcare settings helps patients recover faster and stay out of the hospital.

MP Photo3 Abbott: Suela Sulo, PhD, a health outcomes researcher at Abbott, partnered with Advocate Health Care to study the effects of nutrition on patients enrolled in home healthcare. The study found that 90-day hospitalizations were reduced by 18 percent when patients were given a structured nutrition care plan that included education and nutritional drinks.


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The power of nutrition in improving health is clear, especially among older adults living in care situations, according to a recent study.

Even more, the study’s author Dr. Suela Sulo says malnutrition is a hidden condition that is significantly impacting people’s health and causing a financial burden on healthcare systems.

When looking to move to a care facility, be sure to consider your own nutritional needs and what the care facility can offer.

“Without the right food options, the resident will fail to thrive,” says Gretchen VanDerBosch, a lead registered dietician at Advocate Health Care. “You should consider realistically your needs with the meal plan, your ability to shop and walk to the dining room. If you do delivery service, can you unpack the box and put the groceries away, or put the box outside the door? What happens if you miss a meal? Can food be delivered to the room? Are snacks available throughout the day? It’s also nice to offer a continental breakfast as seniors have different sleep schedules.”

To help residents at Redwood Heights Assisted Living in Salem stay happy and healthy, dietary director Ray Current holds resident food meetings every Tuesday.

“This gives residents a chance to sit down with me and help plan out the weekly menu two weeks in advance,” Current says. “Before we discuss the menu itself, we discuss two topics — food and service. This is really enjoyable because residents give me a lot of feedback.”

Current sometimes finds it hard to please everyone, especially with about 80 residents, so he also offers an “everyday” menu that provides two alternative choices.

“I’ll usually have a sandwich and/or a salad, which is a good choice for healthy eating,” he says. “We also offer a few items not on the menu. We serve baked potatoes every day and mashed potatoes for residents who have issues with chewing or swallowing. We precut items for people who have lost their dexterity, or finely chop or puree food when necessary.”

Midday meals — or dinner to many of the residents — consists of a meat, starch and vegetable.

“They look forward to pot roast on Sundays,” Current says. “To mix it up, we’ll do pork or ham. We try to alternate so we don’t serve the same meat two days in a row.”

If residents are not receptive to a food item, that item gets deleted from the menu options. Menus provide a variety of healthy food choices that most residents enjoy, Current says.

“We’re here for them,” he says. “This is their home.”

Sulo’s study, which followed more than 1,500 home health patients for 90 days, found that some facilities may fall short of the nutritional needs of clients.

“When it comes to patients’ health, nutrition is not always top of mind,” Sulo says. “However, research shows that identifying those who are malnourished or at risk and providing nutrition support, including nutritional drinks and education, can help improve their health.”

According to Sulo, malnutrition often goes unrecognized as it can be invisible to the eye and can occur in both underweight and overweight individuals, she says.

“As many as one in three home health patients, some living in assisted living facilities, are malnourished or at risk, which can impact their recovery or cause further health issues,” she says. “If health systems or healthcare providers find and address malnutrition, they can significantly impact patients’ health and help keep them out of the hospital, as this study demonstrated.”

The study was conducted by Advocate Health Care and Abbott, and demonstrates that prioritizing nutrition across different settings of care can help healthcare providers give their patients the best chance of recovering and help keep them out of the hospital.

“Nutrition processes, like the one implemented in this study, can be adopted by any health system or even assisted living facilities to improve the nutritional status of their patients or residents to potentially help improve outcomes,” Sulo says.

VanDerBosch says good nutrition is important for the older adult population, in part because it supports their strength and independence, and wards off frailty.

“It allows them to combat diseases like heart failure, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and promotes bone health,” she says.

For older adults looking for resources to supplement their nutritional needs, she recommends looking into community meals, financial assistance and food insecurity programs.

“ has an entire section devoted to senior nutrition, education for seniors and referrals to dieticians near you,” VanDerBosch says. “The U.S. Department of Health has information on community living.”

VanDerBosch advises that a registered dietician or medical advisor can accommodate tastes by easing what you can eat.

“My favorite diet is the Mediterranean diet or the DASH — dietary approach against hypertension — diet,” she says. “It is loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains — which are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and help repair the damaged cells — lean meats, dairy for bone health, and some healthy fats. Start your meal with the protein.”

VanDerBosch also suggests older adults consider lutein foods for eye health — kale, sweet potatoes strawberries and salmon.

“If your appetite isn’t so great, consider using milk or a nutritional supplement, instead of water, to take your pills,” she says.

Mistakes older adults make include “skipping meals, splitting the protein at meals, and not eating protein servings at each meal or skimping on the protein source. Protein is muscle and your strength, balance and independence depend on them. Try to avoid foods with little nutritional value. Make the most of every calorie you consume.”

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