Gastro – it’s the one word no aged care worker wants to hear. But unfortunately from time to time gastro outbreaks become a reality. When homes have ‘gastro’ outbreaks there tends to be a lot of focus on infection control and reporting. Looking at food and fluids can also assist in settling gastro symptoms.
There are a lot of myths that report that some remedies or foods can ‘settle the stomach’. Let’s look at the evidence and what practice tell us.
How does Gastroenteritis Affect Resident Nutrition Status?
In the early stages of gastroenteritis, residents are at high risk of dehydration. This is due to excess fluid losses from diarrhoea and vomiting. They will generally not be able to comfortably take much food or fluid orally. Residents may already have such small oral intakes, that any symptoms that reduce food intake will lead to a higher risk of malnutrition.
What food and fluids are appropriate for gastro?
The initial priority whilst residents are symptomatic is to promote hydration and use clear fluids and oral rehydration solutions as necessary.
As symptoms subside and appetite increases, a light diet inclusive of bland foods and plenty of fluids is recommended for the following 24 hours and then as soon as possible return the resident to their usual diet. Some people find avoiding dairy and high fat foods helpful in settling symptoms. It is quite normal for residents who are unwell with gastroenteritis to be uninterested in food. We recommend that residents eat according to their appetite.
A light diet includes foods that are easy to digest, low in fat and mostly plain in flavour. Smaller portions may also assist in poor appetites.
What about Probiotics?
Probiotics have been found to have some benefit (alongside the above diet and fluids). However, more research is needed to confirm it has a place in the treatment of infectious gastroenteritis.
Once Gastroenteritis Settles
Most symptoms will stop within 24 – 48 hours. If gastro is severe and symptoms last for more than 48 hours, continuation of clear fluids with inclusion of a clear fluid nutritional supplement drink such as Ensure Plus Fruit, Resource Fruit Beverage or Fortijuice is recommended. This will optimise a resident’s nutritional status and maximise energy intake.
There is currently no evidence to support prolonged use of a restrictive diet. This is the same for avoidance of dairy foods or a low lactose diet after a period of gastro. Since the light diet is usually low in calories and protein it is unnecessary to prolong dietary restrictions in the elderly. It can be dangerous especially for those who are frail and increases the risk of malnutrition.
Finally, involve your dietitian! Resident’s already at high risk prior to gastroenteritis or with poor appetites even after the gastroenteritis is resolved, may need further interventions in nutrition and hydration.
The next time you have a resident experience gastroenteritis, check if you could temporarily change their diet and fluids to help settle their symptoms. Could you have this added as a usual process for every future gastro incident too?
If you would like assistance or for more information, do not hesitate to contact Leading Nutrition. Call us on 1300 722 712 or by filling in the form below.