Residents enjoy homelike approach to meals

Residents with dementia in a Lethbridge care centre are enjoying a homelike approach to meals thanks to an innovative program.

Residents from an all-male unit at Lethbridge’s St. Michael’s Health Centre are eating more and appear happier since the CHOICE program was rolled out, says Deanna Pawlak, a health care aide on the project team.

CHOICE has residents and staff sit together during meals so there is increased conversation around the table. It also encourages residents to be more involved in the mealtime process by providing food and drink options and inviting them to help set and clear tables.

“It gives them a sense of family when they participate and take ownership of the meal like they would at home,” says Deanna.

In February 2017, facility staff decided to trial CHOICE in one unit after being approached by two researchers, Sienna Casper, Ph.D and Erin Davis from the University of Lethbridge. Previous studies found the U.S.-created program resulted in significant improvement of quality of life for residents in long-term care.

Staff, residents and family members worked together to decide on what CHOICE would look like at their facility. In addition to encouraging residents to make decisions from food options and having staff dine with them, the entrée and dessert are brought at different times to the table, more typical of a home environment. Medications are also given before or after the meal to prevent distracting people from their food. As well staff wait until everyone is finished eating before clearing begins to minimize noise and ensure residents aren’t rushed.

And the pilot proved to be such a success for the residents that it became a permanent program in February, Deanna says. 

“It’s brought us closer together, and it improves care because we connect with residents and build relationships of trust and respect.”

Deanna Pawlak, Healthcare Aide

The changes have resulted in a more homelike and community environment, says Deanna. Since CHOICE was introduced, mealtimes look much differently in the all-male dementia unit. Instead of looking at their plates, residents now interact and socialize with one another and with staff.

Those changes have had a positive impact, says Gayle Pilling. She served on the project team to support her husband, Al Piling, a resident. Gayle, who volunteers at the site most days, including at mealtimes, has seen a significant shift in her husband.  

Gayle Pilling says she’s noticed positive changes in her husband, Al, since the CHOICE program was introduced to the all-male dementia unit.

“I was drawn by the honour, dignity and choices offered to the residents,” Gayle says. “Residents choose where they sit, whether they wear a shirt saver and staff explain what the food is when it’s served. Al seems more relaxed and content when he’s eating now.”

Other residents will hopefully see the same results. CHOICE is currently being introduced to other units in St. Michael’s. 

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