24 Jul 2017

In this second post about creating meaningful and dignified meal times, we look at how small changes to the environment can make our care homes really feel like home.

Creating the Dining Experience
The dining experience extends far beyond the meals we eat. In longterm care people will dine together three times a day. Should they also have the option of contributing to the preparations, the opportunity to enjoy the smells of food long before the meal is served and should they not be asked if they want to help clean up when mealtime is over? Let’s explore new ways of thinking about dining with dignity, while also adding meaning and purpose to daily living in long-term care (LTC).

The Smells of Home
Let’s begin with the “smell” of home. When LTC homes prepare meals away from the area where people eat (e.g. – in the kitchen on the first floor or basement of a multi-level home) there are often no smells to stimulate the appetite before the meal is served. The meal simply arrives. The anticipation of eating is as important to some people as the actual experience of eating. Since we may not be able to move the kitchen in a nursing home to the location where people eat, we need to think about how to create opportunities that will provide the smells of home in the areas where meals are served. A basic and simple solution includes using a crockpot or toasting a couple of pieces of cinnamon flavoured bread in each home area. With a crockpot, the residents can prepare the contents and then enjoy the food later in the day. Peeling and preparing fruits and vegetables also contribute to mealtime preparations.

This adds meaning and purpose to daily living. If the crock pot is used in a home area, don’t forget to lift the lid throughout the day, as you want to send the smells to roll out into the spaces for all to enjoy. Some LTC homes make apple sauce, soups and barbeque sauces in their crock pots, and many staff note how they too have benefited from the smells of home.

The Look and “Feel” of Home
The “look” of home should be “familiar”. Long-term care homes need to consider who lives in their homes. Why not consider décor that was familiar to them in their younger years? While they may have always enjoyed modern design and décor, they may not remember their more recent preferences. To add to the “look” of home, consider using curtains on windows and tablecloths with dishes in contrasting colours, as contrast works well for those with ageing eyes. And don’t forget to provide sufficient lighting. Since many people in LTC require memory supports, we should put name plates on the tables (about the size of a small 5” x 7” double sided picture frame) with a person’s name facing their chair (so they can see where they sit) and their name on the other side to help the others at the table remember the names of those they are joining for dinner. This not only helps with memory loss; it adds to a feeling of belonging. Who wants to sit with strangers who don’t know your name? Knowing someone’s name creates an important feeling of human connection, because there is nothing more important than hearing our name.