How age-friendly is your dining room? Researchers are working on a new tool to assess long-term care (LTC) dining spaces for optimal functionality, safety, ambiance and social value. They've discovered, along with much of the long-term care industry, that healthy dining for older adults is as much social as it is physical—and it's about a lot more than food.
The Dining Environment Audit Protocol (DEAP) is the first attempt to evaluate the environmental, physical and observational aspects of LTC dining spaces, despite “a growing body of evidence that suggests that the physical environment can have an enabling or disabling impact on people who are eating or serving food in long-term care facilities,” notes the research paper published in the February 20 online edition of The Gerontologist.
Researchers developed the tool to consider and rate elements such as lighting, glare, seating arrangements, wayfinding and homelike attributes. Functionality involved taking into account the function of the room as an eating space and as a social space, since “mealtimes are not only nutritionally important, but also have powerful personal, social and cultural meanings,” the authors said. Other elements, such as orientation cues, views of outdoor spaces, a stimulating presentation of food, the use of color, contrast and sensory aspects and the ability to see and greet friends all play a role in inspiring the eating process for older adults.
What makes a great dining space?
Using a 1-8 scale, the DEAP tool assesses dining spaces for a variety of physical and social elements, including:
- Views of outdoor spaces while dining
- Good contrast between table and floor
- Good contrast between table and dinnerware
- Rounded furniture edges
- Adjustable table heights
- Posted menu
- Beverage service accessible 24/7
- Secure cabinets for dangerous kitchen items and cleaning products
- Family/resident-accessible kitchen or kitchenette
- Nearby washroom/toilet
- Short distance from most bedrooms
- Amount of glare and adequacy of lighting
- Presence of obstacles or clutter
- Layout that ensures ease of movement
- A variety of seating arrangements
Researchers tested the tool by studying 10 dining rooms in three LTC facilities over a period of five weeks. While most of the dining rooms assessed had security in place for dangerous items and food storage areas, had posted menus and had accessible kitchen sinks, very few had adjustable tables or good contrast between the table and the floor. In 60 percent of the dining rooms studied, at least some of the residents had a garden view and natural lighting while dining, but none of the dining locations had a 24/7 beverage service.
While bigger spaces may be easier for staff and residents to move in, they aren’t always better for interaction. Dining areas should be scalable and sized appropriately for staff to see all residents at once and for residents to meet and greet each other easily, the study noted.
“Mealtimes in long-term care are complex processes,” the authors wrote. “The social and physical environments are each important in their right, yet they are inseparably interwoven with each other in shaping the culture of practice in long-term care.”
Editor’s note: The DEAP tool also was used in a 2016 pilot study, “Making the Most of Mealtimes,” published in the journal BMC Geriatrics.