Orvis students reach vulnerable seniors with nutritional information

Recipes, cooking utensils, menus distributed at Nov. 16 event at Washoe County Senior Center

Level 3 students Southpaw Wooldridge, Sam Rutherford and Landen Flournoy; Miriam Volpin; students Hannah Higginson, Madison Gardner, Sara Bleakney, Liz Field, Alyssa Daly, Zsanique Aplington and Riley Peña.

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12/4/2017 | By: Anne McMillin |

As a method for further immersing nursing students into the community, increasing their understanding and awareness of patient lives outside the hospital, and in preparation for their careers, the Orvis School of Nursing requires its Level 3 students to collaborate with an agency serving vulnerable populations to develop and provide a health promotion event.

Working in partnership with Northern Nevada HOPES, Renown Health and the Washoe County Senior Center, Assistant Professor Miriam Volpin's fall semester Level 3 students planned a nutritional information health fair at the Washoe County Senior Center on Nov. 16.

Trudy Italiano, the senior support nurse at HOPES, explains.

"I have been precepting Level 3 community health students who come with me during my outreach and intervention visits to about 40 seniors in our community," she said. In conversations with those seniors, she said her students realized there was a need for diet and nutrition information among this low income population, so they created a nutritional intervention program.

Level 3 student Sam Rutherford, who had already been volunteering at HOPES since September, said he saw how there could be a dramatic beneficial impact on this population by providing an educational event addressing diet, food and nutrition. He and his fellow students approached Italiano with the idea of holding a health fair during one of her regularly scheduled blood pressure clinics at the senior center. When she agreed, the students worked to plan activities.

"Our community assessment survey earlier in the semester told us that there was a lack of nutritional information among the homeless, many of whom are also seniors. They have housing and food insecurities due do a lack of income which becomes a social determinate of their health," Rutherford said, adding that many consequently struggle to eat healthy, balanced diets.

The information students gathered from their survey combined with additional literature research revealed that nutrition for older adults is a challenge because of age-related changes in senses of taste and smell, dental issues and limited energy. Older adults with chronic illnesses are especially at risk for poor nutrition and the presence of these illnesses are also significantly higher in malnourished elders.

Malnutrition in the elderly can be the result of bad eating habits, loss of appetite and decreased access to healthy foods because of limited mobility, money or time. Limited income and access to cooking facilities further exacerbates these issues.

"It was valuable to this population to offer an intervention to educate these them on daily nutritional intake, portion control, reading food labels and natural sources of vitamins and minerals, as well as the long-term effects of not getting these things," Rutherford said.

As part of the health fair, the students invited Chris Wyatt, manager of restaurants and banquets at Renown Health, to provide samples of healthy and tasty food choices. Wyatt, drawing on his experience helping heart patients learn how to cook and eat healthier, showed the more than 100 seniors in attendance how to prepare meals using healthy choices and nothing more than a burner or slow cooker.

The students created handouts tailored to people living with conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, cooking without a full kitchen and taking a wide variety of medication. They also passed out recipes and menus. Raffle prizes relating to nutritional cooking such as measuring cups, rice cookers, microwave steam bowls and slow cookers were used to encourage attendance. These prizes were particularly valuable for the housing insecure living in motels, where they may have no access to refrigeration and only a microwave for food preparation. Offering these items was part of a strategy to provide access to fresher, less processed food.

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Being able to address nutrition related to specific chronic conditions and medications made the presentations more personalized and applicable to individual attendees.

Italiano said the students were quite thorough with their information, going so far as to find recipes that use food items handed out by the food bank, which is where many low income seniors get their food resources.

She added that the students' efforts were appreciated by those in attendance at the fair.

"The seniors love having students come in and feel honored to have them there," she said. "And the students learn more by interacting with the seniors. They learn about collaboration and community resources that make a difference for seniors in our community."

"This team of stellar students came together to serve this vulnerable population. It was fantastic."

Rutherford said the students' efforts were well-received by the seniors who were especially excited about the raffle giveaways. While this event was deemed a success, he said there is plenty more work to be done to help low income seniors in the community.

"There is still education needed about nutrition across the lifespan and opportunities to teach and talk to community members, especially those with co-morbidities. I hope to be able to work with Trudy on more community events."

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