Long-term care is a variety of services that supports the basic activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing and eating.

The goal of long-term care is to maximize residents’ quality of life while meeting their needs over a long period of time. It can be provided at home, assisted living facilities or nursing homes.

Long-term care provides a level of nutrition care from registered dietitians (RDs) who address the multiple chronic diseases associated with aging.

This article lists five of the most important long-term care dietitian responsibilities.

1. They Prescribe Therapeutic Diets

Traditionally, the practice was for the physician to write diet orders for residents of a long-term care facility or have an RD draft the order for the physician’s signature.

New federal regulations, however, allow long-term care facilities to adopt rules and procedures that allow the physician to delegate the ability of ordering therapeutic diets to RDs (1).

As the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) explain, “RDs are the professionals who are best qualified to assess a patient’s nutritional status and to design and implement a nutritional treatment plan in consultation with the patient’s interdisciplinary care team (2).”

2. They Liberalize Therapeutic Diets

As part of the treatment plan for a specific disease or condition, a therapeutic diet is typically prescribed to residents upon admission to a long-term care facility.

For example, a resident who has type 2 diabetes may be prescribed a therapeutic diet to help control their blood sugars.

Many residents, however, find therapeutic diets unappetizing leading them to eat less. Overtime, poor food and beverage intake can lead to unintended weight loss and malnutrition (3).

Knowing that therapeutic diets should not be prescribed based on medical condition alone, dietitians can decrease the risk of other health complications by liberalizing residents’ diets based on their individualized goals, preferences and informed decisions.

3. They Prevent and Treat Malnutrition

Malnutrition, also known as undernutrition, is both a medical and nutritional diagnosis that can result in severe consequences.

Consequences of malnutrition include, increased risk of falls and infections, increased healing time, pressure ulcers, increased chance of hospital admission and readmission and medical costs (4).

Dietitians can assess and identify the risk factors of malnutrition and intervene with the appropriate individualized nutrition care. As such, dietitians play an important role in not only the prevention of malnutrition but also the treatment.

4. They Embrace the Philosophy of Person-Centered Values

Person-centered care — also referred to as person-directed care — promotes choice, dignity, respect, self-determination and purposeful living.

In person-centered care, the goal is to keep residents at the center of care planning and decision-making process.

Dietitians embrace person-centered care by involving residents in choices about food and dining, food selections, dinning locations and meal times (3).

This helps residents maintain a sense of dignity and control in the long-term care setting.

5. They Improve Residents’ Quality of Life

There are two goals that must be met when caring for those in long-term care: maintenance of health and quality of life (3).

Often times, one of these goals suffer at the expense of the other based on the resident’s goals and desires.

Dietitians, however, can ensure both goals are met through individualized nutrition approaches. This includes the use of the least restrictive diet and providing patient-directed care.

Dakota Dietitians provides skilled food, nutrition and health care services to nursing facilities, hospitals, home care and residential living centers throughout South Dakota and surrounding states.

If you’re looking for temporary, permanent or tempt-to-hire dietitian coverage at your facility click here. Or if you’re wanting to know more about our consulting services click here.