Good nutrition has a fundamental role to play in enabling patients to benefit from Rehabilitative Palliative Care. Good nutrition is more than just about eating well; it’s about socialising, spending time with family and friends, regaining a sense of control and normality in day to day life – all of which are central to our holistic approach to Rehabilitative Palliative Care. Eating and drinking can become a significant problem during the palliative course of an illness, not just due to physical difficulties but also the emotional and psychosocial impact of the illness. Great frustration can be experienced by patients and their families when, despite encouragement and time spent creating appetising meals, the patient is only able to eat one or two mouthfuls; both worry about how the patient will ‘keep strong’ when they are eating so little.
The dietitian is not just an expert source of nutrition knowledge but has the skills to support the patient and their family through some of the social and emotional difficulties associated with eating.
Every patient needs to have their nutritional status assessed and addressed as early as possible so that they can fully engage in all that Rehabilitative Palliative Care has to offer.
My vision is that patients are given access to good quality nutrition input as early in the palliative stage of their illness as possible; we shouldn’t wait until patients have lost significant amounts of weight but should be pre-empting this by being proactive. Rehabilitative Palliative Care should include the opportunity to find out what works best for the patient – whether that be for individualised nutrition counselling with a dietitian, access to good quality written information or the opportunity to find support from others in the same situation through group self-management programmes.
Dietetics is under-represented in palliative care – now is the time to reverse this and give patients the opportunity to make the most out of their lives.