Mary is 97 years old, she has lived in St. Mary’s Hospital for the last fifteen years and she suffers from late stage dementia. Dementia has stolen her ability to communicate verbally and she barely spoken to anyone for the last ten years. As Dementia slowly affects her physically, mealtimes become a difficult and lonely place, filled with small but insurmountable problems that mean she may not finish all that is on her plate. A fork out of reach, a preference accidentally overlooked or simply a lack of motivation: Mary is now at risk of malnourishment.
Poor appetite and difficulty with eating and drinking are problems for many older people in care. A missed meal can be as big a risk to health as missing medication and a large proportion of older people are at great risk of malnutrition due to a number of simple and avoidable reasons. The annual public health and social care cost associated with adult malnourished patients in Ireland is estimated at over €1.4 billion, representing 10% of the health-care budget. Most of this cost arises in acute hospital or residential care settings (i.e. 70%), with nutritional support estimated to account for 3% of spend. More than any other intervention, the simple gift of time and company has been proven to be an important tool in the fight against malnourishment and volunteer involvement has been recognised as an important part of the response to this hidden crisis.
A new volunteer programme, Care Local’s Plate Pals, is there to turn the tide against malnutrition by inviting the local community to give their time, providing assistance and gentle reminders to eat, for the full hour it can take an older person in care to finish a full meal. “Plate Pals saves lives and maintains the dignity of some of the most vulnerable of people.” Linda Desmond, Care Local Programme Director. . “When a Plate Pal is there, you can really feel the joy in the room” said one Ward Manager in the Phoenix Park Community Nursing Unit.
“We are working with a number of nursing homes across Dublin to change the way people think about mealtimes in long-term care. So many facilities are opening their doors to the community and inviting local volunteers to give their time as Plate Pals Mealtime Companions, to help improve the quality of life of older people in their care. Gone are the rushed and clinical mealtimes so often seen in institutional care. Nursing homes that have taken Plate Pals on board are dedicated to making mealtime a positive experience again for the many who miss the warmth of a family meal. We’ve seen the results, residents are gaining weight and many are communicating for the first time in years. Our programme helps time-strapped nursing homes to recruit and train local volunteers as mealtime companions. We provide this voluntary service at no cost; our role is to help each community take an active part in looking after their own because caring for our older people is a community effort and that doesn’t stop when a person has to leave their own home.” Bebhinn Hare, Plate Pals Programme Coordinator.
Care Local currently provides this important voluntary service in 15 long-term care facilities across Dublin, with plans for expansion to acute hospital and community settings Volunteers are wanted in all locations on an on-going basis. To volunteer or if you have any questions, please contact Bebhinn Hare on 01 836 0011 or by email to email@example.com. See www.carelocal.ie for more information.
Plate Pals are active in the following nursing homes:
Bray Tara Care Centre, Putland Road
Chapelizod Phoenix Park Community Unit,(formerly St. Mary’s Hospital
City West TLC West, Cooldown Commons, Fortunestown Lane
Clontarf La Verna Nursing Home, Haddon Road
DunLaoghaire Ashford House Nursing Home, Tivoli Terrace East
Aclare Nursing Home, Tivoli Terrace South
Glasnevin Claremont Nursing Home, St. Canice’s Road
Beneavin Lodge Nursing Home, Beneavin Road
Harold’s Cross St. Gladys Nursing Home, Lower Kimmage Road
Ranelagh Northbrook House Nursing Home, Northbrook Road
Leeson Park House Nursing Home, Leeson Park
Rathgar Orwell House Nursing Home, Orwell Road
Sandymount Mount Tabor Nursing Home, Sandymount Green
Santry Cara Care Centre, Northwood Park
Tallaght Kitipper Woods Nursing Home, Kiltipper Road
Information for volunteers:
Volunteers will be asked for the names and contact details of three referees. These referees can be from friends, neighbours and community leaders. A work reference is requested but not necessary if you don’t have one available. Volunteers will also be asked to fill out a Garda vetting form, which takes about six weeks to return. Care Local hopes that prospective volunteers won’t be put off by this short wait. “Training takes place every three months, meaning your Garda vetting is usually returned by the time you are ready to start.” said Bebhinn Hare.
Training takes place over four evenings in the city-centre. Volunteers should be willing to commit to at least six months, just once a week. The next training phase begins in September