Dysphagia is a condition where people have difficulty swallowing. It is usually a secondary symptom for other conditions, injuries, or illnesses such as dementia, neck injury, or neurological diseases.
For those that struggle with swallowing, it can be difficult to get all the fluids and nutrients you need, especially if you find yourself feeling anxious around mealtimes or avoiding food entirely.
Dysphagia patients often need a modified diet to ensure that eating is as easy as possible while also providing all the nutrients the body needs. A common symptom of dysphagia is choking, as food may get stuck in the throat or feel like it’s stuck.
Sufferers can also regularly experience bouts of aspiration pneumonia when food enters the airway or goes down the ‘wrong hole’.
To help caregivers and people with dysphagia to get the right nutrients, here are a few tips.
Get the consistency right
Dysphagia patients often find modified foods and thickened liquids easier to chew and swallow. There is an international standardization (IDDSI) that helps patients and their caregivers to create the perfect consistency, dependent on how bad the condition is.
The IDDSI ranges from level 3 to 7, with regular, chewable food at 7 and liquidized food being 3. Using a variety of tests, you can identify which level any food sits at. Tests include things like using a fork to press into the food, seeing if the food drips from a fork, or tilting a spoon.
Small frequent meals
For those that have difficulty with swallowing, large meals can be incredibly stressful and exhausting. It is much easier to manage smaller meals more frequently than the standard three meals a day.
It’s important to make every bite count as well. Nutrient-dense foods like fruit, lean meats, and eggs are great for ensuring those with dysphagia get the most out of their food. It’s important to find high-calorie foods with protein and healthy fats to prevent excessive weight loss and malnutrition.
Use healthcare official thickeners
To ensure food and liquids are thick enough to swallow properly, it’s always better to use those that are specifically made for healthcare. A lot of people substitute official thickeners for things like flour or potato flakes.
Standardized products, like those made by Simply Holahan, are much better for ensuring the consistency is correct every time. They’re also flavorless – ultimately meaning food can taste just as good with or without the thickener.
Continue to enjoy food
For most people, food is a great way to celebrate special occasions, provide comfort in a stressful situation, or can be the best part of the day. Those with dysphagia can easily shy away from social situations where they need to eat. However, diving into these scenarios can actually help people to improve the eating experience as a whole.
Start small by eating and drinking around friends and family at home. Then, work your way up to having small snacks and drinks out of the house. There is no reason for those struggling with dysphagia not to enjoy all the fun parts of life.