Providing adequate nutrition for residents in long term care (LTC) is a pervasive issue in Canada and globally that presents complex challenges for health providers. Older adults who have suffered a stroke may have difficulty swallowing and need a certain texture and consistency of food. Residents with dementia may refuse to eat, become too distracted to eat, be unable to use utensils properly, may not recognize food, and have difficulty chewing. Medical conditions often contribute to nutritional decline. Poor nutrition has a profound impact on health and quality of life in older adults living in LTC and it is mostly preventable and treatable. Given the implications, improving and coordinating nutrition-related quality of care in LTC is a priority for health providers, researchers, health regions and policy makers. While nutrition in LTC has been negatively portrayed in the media, there has been little rigorous research into the issue in Saskatchewan to confidently inform policy and practice.

Dr. Shanthi Johnson, Professor of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina, and her colleagues are helping to shed light on this issue by exploring the nutritional status in LTC residents across the province. To do this, her team is examining the Resident Assessment Instrument Minimum Data Set (RAI-MDS). The RAI-MDS is a comprehensive tool used to assess residents in LTC. Information related to the resident’s health upon the initial admission, and then four times a year after that is collected.

Dr. Johnson’s team will focus her attention on nutrition related information in the RAI-MDS, such as undesired weight loss, BMI, poor oral intake, whether the resident can feed him/herself independently, as well as whether the resident has swallowing problems. She will also compare indicators including gender, facility, health region, and level of care. The resulting data will serve as a baseline, allowing researchers to measure the effectiveness of future nutritional interventions.

The research team will include researchers from SPHERU (Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit), analysts from eHealth and Health Quality Council, policy makers, clinical staff and managers from long term care, students and resident advisors.