Malnutrition is prevalent in elderly hospitalised patients and has been associated with longer lengths of stay (LOS), higher rates of complications and increased hospital costs. Feeding assistance has traditionally been the role of nurses, however with an ageing population and an ever-increasing workload there may not be sufficient time to ensure the nutritional care of all patients. A program in which trained volunteers assist, socialise and feed nutritionally vulnerable patients at lunch on weekdays has been initiated in a major suburban hospital in Sydney. The pilot study reported here aimed to evaluate the lunchtime assistance program in terms of dietary intakes by comparing data from weekdays (with volunteers) and that from weekends (no volunteers). Nine patients (mean age+(SD): 89±4.6 years) participated in the study. Observations and weighed plate waste were recorded for each patient at lunch on two weekdays and two weekend days. When volunteers were present, the average protein intake increased by 10.1 g at lunch (p<0.05) and 10.7g over the whole day (p<0.05). There was also a trend to increased energy intake. Observations indicated that the volunteers, when compared to the nurses, socialised more with patients, encouraged them to eat more often and spent more time feeding them. Trialing volunteer assistance in a larger study would be useful.
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