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Familiar Foods Can Ease Stress for the Elderly During Disasters

Health care facilities must meet the challenge of providing adequate care in the face of natural disasters or other emergency events. Disaster comfort foodpreparedness includes being ready to provide uninterrupted service in the face of a break in critical infrastructure. Health care providers should be aware of the potential difficulties older adults may experience as a result of a natural disaster, especially when evacuations and relocations occur.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Nursing found older adults are more susceptible to illness, injury or even death during a disaster.  Older adults often have visual and hearing deficits which make it more difficult for them to interpret their environments, provoking increased stress. The stress can exacerbate chronic illnesses and further precipitate delirium. Read more from the article in Long-Term Living Magazine:

Long-term care facilities should carefully consider the emergency meal plan in place to serve the elderly during a disaster. Facilities can minimize potential stress on residents with an emergency and disaster feeding plan that provides a cost-effective, complete, nutritionally balanced, regulatory-friendly, and easy-to-implement system that can also be packed for ease of evacuation. The foods and beverages offered can make a difference in the appearance of normalcy in an otherwise chaotic environment. Comfort foods which are familiar and nutritious will help to ease the discomfort of the displaced elderly during an evacuation or when sheltering-in-place during an emergency. Often the offer of a hot cup of coffee or balanced meal can provide comfort in unfamiliar environments.

Commercial nutritional supplement drinks, military MRE’s, meal bars, protein or snack bars are not an adequate replacement for familiar foods or a balanced meal. When I think of comfort foods, I think of macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, a pudding cup, a glass of milk, and hot coffee. Emergency preparedness meals should incorporate easily recognizable and familiar foods with common ingredients so that the residents receive food services as close as possible to what they expect, regardless of the emergency.

The California Department of Public Health surveyors are also looking for emergency preparedness meal plans to meet the nutritional needs of the patient population in the health care facilities and provide similar nutritional value of the routine meals at the facility. The CDPH All Facilities Letter 14-32 from December 2014 states:

“…state regulations require facilities to have detailed written plans and procedures to meet all potential emergencies and disasters. These written procedures should include plans for the availability of adequate basic utilities and supplies, including food and water, with consideration for the special needs of the patients/residents/clients treated at the facilities. Special needs can be attributed to age (e.g., pediatrics), therapeutic diet (e.g., renal, diabetic), or mechanically altered diets (e.g., mechanically chopped, puree). Facilities should develop disaster menu plans that can be mobilized in the event of the lack of essential utilities (e.g., gas, electricity, water), that can be easily served by disaster response personnel, and that mirror the nutritional adequacy of the meals routinely served at the facilities.”

Read the entire AFL here:

In times of stress, familiar foods help to sustain peace of mind for the caregivers and recipients as well as provide nourishment to sustain lives.

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