How an innovative way of serving pureed food is revitalizing mealtime for seniors with dysphasia
By Vanessa Woznow,
Dan Levitt is the CEO of KinVillage, a Fraser Health affiliate partner and non-profit society in Tsawassen. He and his team provide a combination of housing (long-term care, assisted living and independent living), health services and programs for older adults in the community.
“We work closely with Fraser Health and its leadership,” says Dan. “Together, we want to set a new narrative on what long-term care is, which includes creative and innovative new ways of doing great things for seniors.”
Part of this innovation includes the promotion of food equity – so that no matter a resident’s age, health or ability, they feel valued and seen when it comes to their nutrition and meals.
“Food is all about dignity,” says Dan. “We want to make sure that anyone sitting down to eat in our dining room feels equal to their fellow diners.”
To support this goal, KinVillage has implemented an initiative for individuals with dysphasia – a condition that causes swallowing difficulties, which can lead to coughing or choking when eating or drinking.
“It’s something that we see in individuals who have neurological conditions, such as dementia or Parkinson’s disease, or who maybe have suffered a stroke,” says Dan.
For these residents, food must be served liquefied or as purees, which makes it safe for consumption, but can also make it less palatable or visually appealing.
“We wanted to make pureed food more appetizing. So we’re now shaping and re-forming textured food into solid forms, so they resemble the different pieces the dish. Effectively, the steak looks like steak, carrots look like carrots, and potatoes look like potatoes.”
Dan and his team have seen immediate positive impacts.
“One staff member actually returned a plate saying ‘This is not for the person I’m feeding – they can’t eat solid food.’ That’s how good it looks like. Another person who couldn’t feed themselves, can now feed themselves. And others who used to struggle to eat, are clearing their plates.”
Janice Sorensen registered dietitian, PhD, is the clinical research leader with Fraser Health’s Integrated Long-Term Care and Assisted Living team and stresses the positive impact work like this has, especially on resident populations at higher risk of malnutrition.
“Evidence shows that individuals on a modified consistency diet typically experience reduced food intake and undernutrition, which can result in functional decline and poorer health status,” she says. “Allowing individuals to participate during mealtime in ways they were accustomed to can increase one’s motivation to eat, improve mealtime experience and impact quality of life in a big way. It brings back the joy of food.”
Janice encouraged and provided advice for Dan and the KinVillage team to apply for seed grant funds through the Healthcare Excellence Canada LTC+ program, to support their project.
The success of their application made the program possible, and they are now currently working on securing permanent funding.
“We want this to become the standard,” says Dan.
He believes that the momentum from projects like this one carry on into new, creative ways of delivering excellent seniors care.
“Our focus is, if we can change one thing in long-term care, it puts the spotlight on the next thing we can work on. It’s all part of re-thinking the long-term care home all together.”
Vanessa Woznow is a Senior Communications Consultant at Fraser Health.