Social mealtimes boost wellbeing of nursing home residents

May 04, 2006

Providing a convivial and social environment at mealtimes improves the quality of life of nursing home residents, finds a study published on bmj.com today.

Residents of nursing homes not only face physical deterioration but also loss of independence, privacy, and a familiar environment. These factors lead to high levels of loneliness and depression and a low perceived quality of life.

Mealtimes in nursing homes provide an opportunity to integrate physical care with measures to improve quality of life. But in most nursing homes, meals are individually served on trays in a non-stimulating social environment.

Researchers in the Netherlands assessed the effect of eating together (family style mealtimes) on the quality of life of nursing home residents without dementia.

Their theory was that quality of life, physical performance, and body weight would remain stable among residents offered family style mealtimes but would decline in those receiving the usual pre-plated service.

A total of 282 residents in five Dutch nursing homes took part in the study. Each nursing home had a control ward and an intervention ward. The control wards maintained the pre-plated service, while the intervention wards introduced social family style mealtimes. All meals were similar in weight and nutrient content.

The intervention lasted for six months and results were adjusted for age, sex, and length of stay.

Family style mealtimes improved quality of life and prevented a decline in physical performance and body weight of residents.

These results support earlier research that found family style mealtimes improved the mood of nursing home residents with dementia. Although this study excluded residents with dementia, the authors believe that their conclusion may be extended to all nursing home residents.

This was a simple intervention that did not need extra staff, or increase workload or costs, say the authors. With motivated staff, this programme is easy to achieve on a low budget.
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BMJ

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