Older people in Wales care homes 'malnourished', says watchdog

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Media captionIn one case, an elderly man was left living off just mashed potato, Sarah Rochira said

Some care home residents are becoming malnourished because not enough thought is going into the food they are given, says Wales' older people's commissioner.

Sarah Rochira told BBC Wales the situation was "unacceptable" after a review of 100 care homes.

In one case, she said an elderly man was left living off just mashed potato.

She called for an increased focus on providing nutritionally balanced meals and choice for vulnerable people.

Ms Rochira ordered her office to carry out unannounced visits to 100 care homes as part of a formal review of the quality of life and care for older people in residential homes.

One of the areas of concern was the meals served in homes, with claims that some residents were being given poor quality meals and no choice over what they ate.

'Dry sandwiches'

"It is unacceptable that in some parts of Wales older people are malnourished in the place they should be able to call home," she said.

"If we don't get it right we'll have people who are frailer than they need to be, more people admitted to hospital than there needs to be."

She said a number of cases stayed with her following her review.

"One that did stick with me was about a gentleman who needed a soft diet. Primarily, all he had to eat was mashed potato.

"People who told me that in the afternoons, invariably all they seemed to have available to them were cold, dry sandwiches.

"It is not anything any of us would want - for anybody."

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Media captionJoan Ford, 92, lost weight because the food at her last care home was "awful"

CASE STUDY: Healthy appetite returns

Joan Ford, 92, (pictured) says before she moved to Regency Care Home near Pontypool the food she was given was "absolutely appalling".

She says she lost two and a half stone because "she just couldn't eat" the food she was given.

Meals, she says, were often similar each day and she wasn't given any choice about what she ate.

Now, in her new care setting, things are very different.

"I can come into the dining room and I know I'm going to eat it. I never turn anything down," she said.

One Welsh local authority that has set out to tackle the problem is Torfaen.

It acted after trading standards officers found some care homes were offering 800 calories of food a day to residents, while others were offering far more than the recommended level of about 2,000 calories.

It is developing a "unified menu planning system", and aims to provide an easy-to-use website which would be available to councils and care homes in other parts of Wales.

Sarah Herbert, a dietician with Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, said good diet can help avoid the risk of bed pressure sores, falls and acquired infections such as pneumonia.

"Care homes we've spoken to so far seem keen to engage with us to improve things.

"Hopefully we can develop a website to make it easier for people to get the right advice about portion sizes and what makes up a good menu."

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