Written by Azita Boozchaloo, Registered Associate Nutritionist with MSc in Clinical Nutrition and Health.
Being a registered nutritionist (ANutr), I was looking for volunteering opportunities to gain practical experience. I learned about Eat Well Age Well in the summer of 2019, took part in relevant training sessions and became part of their ‘Eat Well Visit’ project.
The project was about supporting older people who had been identified as at risk of malnutrition by socialising with them through home visits and assessing their health by filling in an eating and well-being checklist form.
The first visit required gathering information about older person’s nutrition and hydration needs, for example, if there are any barriers or difficulties with shopping and food preparation, or if there are any social or emotional issues that may be preventing them from eating well. They’d also be asked about unintentional weight loss, having a poor appetite and if their clothes/jewellery/dentures felt looser than usual. Then, a paperweight armband was used as a screening tool to measure arm circumference as a surrogate measure for body mass index. If the armband slides up and down the persons arm, then this helps indicate that a person might be under-weight and at risk of malnutrition. Based on the older person’s responses and the armband, support, referrals and signposting could be provided, with treatment goals and dietary changes discussed with them and set.
Visit 2 would be a follow up after 4-6 weeks to discuss the progress of their treatment goals and changes to their diet. At week 12, visit 3 would involve reviewing the issues raised in visit one, how things had improved or changed, and if any other issues had arisen during that time.
I was really excited about being part of the project and assist with a strategy to help detect, treat and prevent malnutrition in older people. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 pandemic and the no face-to-face meeting rule, the project has been indefinitely postponed.
Nonetheless, I continued to volunteer with another similar project with Food Train doing check -in calls. This involved speaking to vulnerable older people during lockdown, most of whom were in shielding. It was the least I could do. I would call and ask how they were feeling, how they were coping with the situation and if they had enough food supplies at home and if shopping was urgently needed. Each week I was required to fill in an excel form and report a summary of all calls and the clients’ situation to my supervisor. If there were any problems in terms of food access or grocery shopping, I referred them to my supervisor in order to suggest suitable support such as food banks or booking a delivery slot with a nearby supermarket so that essential shopping could be delivered to their doorstep.
I had a chat with them about everything; politics, shopping, cooking, exchanging recipes and how to store food for longer time in the fridge/freezer to reduce food wastage. I would also try to provide moral support by reminding them that it was normal to feel lonely and stressed in the circumstances, that many of us were feeling the same way, and that better times will come. Most of them told me that they were waiting to speak to me each week and that I had become a virtual friend. I am still in contact with some and eventually I hope I can meet them face to face.
The check-in calls lasted for 12 weeks, and it was very satisfying to hear my clients feeling relaxed when talking to me and they appreciated my calls.
This is my first blog about my volunteering journey during the pandemic. I would like to thank Eat Well Age Well and Food Train for their opportunities and their support. I have learnt a lot about myself as well as helping others and, with the hope that everything will be back to normal soon, I will continue put into practice what I have learnt as a nutritionist.
Azita Boozchaloo is a registered Associate Nutritionist with MSc in Clinical Nutrition and Health, and volunteers with Food Train and Eat Well Age Well.
Follow Azita on Twitter: @AzitaB2