Nutrition in Practice


What we know

Food and nutrition have a social value as well as a nutritional value to people. As people come to the end of their life, they may have less interest in food and there may be physical issues to be considered such as swallowing difficulties and fatigue. Families may also be concerned about weight loss.

What can I do?

To help plan for reduced oral intake and appetite as health deteriorates, and understand individual and family preferences, arrange a family conference with relevant care staff, health professionals and the family. Use the series of palliAGED forms to organise a family meeting.

Early family counselling with a dietitian can offer strategies for changes in appetite or food textures to maximise enjoyment and nutritional intake. You can direct family to the Dietitians Australia website to find an accredited practising dietitian in their area – just enter their postcode and search.

When eating and drinking is no longer possible, remind the family they can continue to care with activities such as mouth care.

Remember food is social as well as nutritional in nature.

What can I learn?

Check out the information on CareSearch about the role of dietitians in palliative care. Don’t forget to look at the resources in the 'Find out more' section at the base of the page.

Check out the short case studies and worksheets regarding helping people with reduced hydration and nutrition.


Watch the four 'Nutrition in Palliative Care' presentations from Hospice UK

What can my organisation do?

Malnutrition screening may be useful in identifying people requiring nutrition support - easy to administer tools are widely available and can be linked with a malnutrition action plan (MUST (896kb pdf) / MNA short form - elderly (SF-MNA) (91kb pdf)). The SF-MNA contains specific questions regarding neurophysical problems and is seen as appropriate for people with dementia.

Regularly recording weight measurements and attempting to achieve weight gain is not a priority for people receiving end-of-life/terminal care and may be distressing to both the person and the family. In residential aged care it may be necessary to discontinue weekly / fortnightly / monthly weighs.

Older Australians receiving aged care services and end-of-life palliative care are excluded from the National Aged Care Mandatory Quality Indicator Program reporting of unplanned weight loss. (10.3.2 in National Aged Care Mandatory Quality Program Manual – 3.0)

Good oral hygiene is an important part of eating. Aged care services for people receiving palliative care should include regular 'mouth checks' to determine if any problems with a tooth, denture, or gum could impair the ability to eat or drink or enjoy food.

Watch the video -‘The Role of the Dietitian'.

Page updated 11 August 2023