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A Times of Israel scoop

Worried medical staff make special ice cream, as pandemic puts seniors off food

Geriatricians watched with dismay as pandemic blues stopped many patients from eating — and decided to reach for the ice cream machine and serve nutritional supplements as treats

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Staff at Sheba Medical Center distribute nutrition-rich ice cream to geriatric patients (Naama Frank Azriel)
Staff at Sheba Medical Center distribute nutrition-rich ice cream to geriatric patients (Naama Frank Azriel)

Israeli medical teams have started making nutrition-rich ice cream for the elderly, after watching with dismay in recent weeks as many patients stopped eating because of pandemic blues and refused dietary supplements.

“Nutritional supplements are important for many of our geriatric patients,”  Dana Weiner, head of nutrition at Sheba Medical Center, told The Times of Israel. “This is especially the case after the pandemic has made many depressed and left them with less appetite.

“But patients don’t like the taste and smell of supplements, and because of this some refuse to take them,” she said.

“Happily, the smell and taste change when it is frozen, so we have started putting the supplements in an ice cream-making machine and serving them in colorful cups.”

Some patients have requested second helpings, she reported.

Rachel Sasson, 78, who has been in treatment at Sheba for several months, commented: “The last thing I expected to receive while being at the hospital was ice cream. It tastes wonderful and warms my heart.”

Sheba is following the lead of Herzog Medical Center in Jerusalem, which started serving the supplements — a source of protein, vitamins and minerals — as ices for elderly coronavirus patients.

Staff at Sheba Medical Center distribute nutrition-rich ice cream to geriatric patients (Naama Frank Azriel)

“We started freezing the supplements because COVID-19 harms the sense of taste or smell, but we all enjoy licking ice cream, and patients responded very well. We’re delighted that Sheba is now taking this approach,” Yehezkel Caine, president at Herzog, told The Times of Israel.

Weiner said: “Patients at Sheba have reacted like they are getting a treat. We think of ice cream as a treat, not a medical product, and this approach has really started to make people smile. They enjoy the taste, and patients say it feels good to know that medical staff are putting thought into considering their needs.”

The oral nutritional supplement is simply placed in an ice cream machine, without additional ingredients, and turned into a frozen dessert.

Sheba dieticians reached the decision to find a creative way to creatively repackage the supplements as more and more patients became reliant on them as a result of the pandemic.

A stand in a geriatric ward at Sheba Medical Center where patients can get nutrition-rich ice cream. (Naama Frank Azriel)

Weiner said she observed that many of the hospital’s geriatric patients were depressed, in poor nutritional condition, and barely eating, because the pandemic affected their wellbeing and made them more lonely by limiting visitors. Her team concluded that the only option was to give them nutritional liquid supplements. In one small bottle they get a full meal’s worth of nutrition, 330 calories and 20 grams of protein.

“The mental state of our patients at Sheba is of the utmost importance to us,” she said. “Patients must be able to help themselves mentally in order to feel better. Beyond all the other excellent medical treatments our patients receive here at Sheba, if they do not have the physical energy needed, which the nutritional food supplements provide, they will not be able to get better.”

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