A coloured plate and flashing lights on a cup can make all the difference when it comes to a confused patient eating and drinking enough while in hospital.

Our teams at Yeovil Hospital are looking at ways to improve the nutritional intake of people living with dementia. Older people are at high risk of malnutrition and this has a clear impact on a person’s health and wellbeing, combating this risk is extremely important.

Clinical Nurse Specialist Kirsty Withers said: “There are many reasons why older patients come into hospital malnourished. As we get older our appetites may reduce, you can have trouble swallowing, food can taste different, vision can be reduced and patients with dementia are particularly at risk.

“We need good nutrition and hydration to ensure our bodies can repair themselves so after surgery or a period of illness it is more important than ever.”

The hospital’s new meal system includes an entire finger-food menu. This assists patients who may have difficulty with cutlery as well as those who prefer to eat small amounts of food throughout the day and who may otherwise feel daunted by a full plate of food.

The Trust has also embarked on a pilot project to enable staff to evaluate the impact that the colour of food plates has on how much a person eats. There is evidence to show that coloured plates that contrast the food helps to enable those with visual impairments or dementia to see their meal and identify the food on their plate better. This supports them to eat more. The dementia care team is currently gathering information from patients, their visitors and staff to help choose which colour plates will be put in place for the pilot.

Nurse Consultant for Dementia/Care of Older people Janine Valentine said: “We started with a small project comparing the amount of food waste between blue plates and white plates and now we are looking at comparing a wider variety of different coloured plates. Often these small changes can have a surprising impact.

“With people living longer, many of our older people are coping with a number of complicated medical conditions. Anything we can do to improve the amount of food a patient is eating is a positive step in supporting their health. Eating and drinking goes hand in hand with medicines and treatment and is just as essential to a person’s recovery.”

The hospital has also introduced bright coloured orange mugs as well as the option of tea cups and saucers allowing patients a choice, different weight options and a bit of nostalgia.

Alongside these current initiatives to ensure patients are drinking enough, the wards are piloting the use of the Droplet Drinking System.

Kirsty added: “The Droplet Dinking System attached to the bottom of our mugs and tumblers can be set to flash at regular periods to prompt a patient to drink as well as act as a nightlight so drinks can be found at night. We can also add a voice message from our staff or a relative to add a familiar voice that can also act as a personalised prompt to drink.

“They are such a fantastic idea and we are really looking forward to seeing the impact they have on the wards. We are so lucky to have such strong support from The Friends of Yeovil Hospital who have offered the funding to allow us to introduce the droplet cups.”

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