Introducing Dysphagia Patients to the Dietary Basics
For years, healthcare providers, dietitians and speech language pathologists (SLPs) have debated the specifics of creating standardized guidelines for meeting the dietary needs of dysphagia patients. The categorization process is a work in progress and far from a perfect science, especially when applied to the unique needs of individual patients. While establishing liquid- and food-related protocols may help to create a standardized starting point for evaluating the specific needs of each patient, experts acknowledge that when it comes to the complexities of swallowing disorders, there should never be a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
In the face of such debate, it is critical that healthcare providers clearly understand some of the dietary issues faced by their patients with dysphagia. Appearing in the Thick-It® community forum, the following blog can be a useful resource for helping your patients and their caregivers feel more confident in facing a dysphagia diagnosis.
Understanding the Basics of Dysphagia Nutrition
Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, is a disorder that may be caused by stroke, neurological disease, dementia, or other factors. Because of the danger it poses for aspiration and choking, it can increase the likelihood of dehydration and malnutrition over time.1
While a dysphagia diagnosis can be intimidating, taking steps to maintain adequate nutrition and hydration levels go a long way toward minimizing the negative effects of a swallowing disorder. Here are a few things to consider when building a healthy diet for patients with dysphagia.
1. What are common symptoms of dysphagia?
A number of signs may suggest a person is experiencing a problem with dysphagia, including:
- Oral leaking or drooling
- Choking or gagging
- Pocketing food (capturing it in the cheeks)
- Taking longer than 10 seconds to swallow
- Weakness, poor motivation
- Poor chewing ability, which may lead to choking on food 2
2. What are some of the features of a dysphagia diet?
A dysphagia diet features different textures of foods and liquids that can make it easier and safer for patients to swallow. These textures make it easier to chew and move food in the mouth and reduce the risk of food or liquid going into the windpipe or trachea, which leads to the lungs.3
3. How are foods and liquids categorized for people with dysphagia?
Liquids and foods can be categorized in a number of ways according to thickness, all the way from a very thin liquid to solid, bite-sized food. The important thing to remember is that every dysphagia patient is different and has his or her own specific challenges that need to be addressed. Food and beverage thickeners like Thick-It® Original and Thick-It® Clear Advantage® can be used to achieve any desired consistency required by your dysphagia diet.
4. How can dysphagia patients ensure they are getting enough nutrition?
When following a dysphagia diet, it is important to:
- Eat from a variety of food groups to ensure that the patient’s nutritional needs are being met.
- Be creative – many foods can be put in a blender to provide a nutritious meal.
- Eat small, frequent meals, especially if they are not able to eat large meals.
- Serve both hot and cold foods to provide a variety of temperatures in their diet and to avoid food contamination.4
5. Where can you turn for expert medical and nutritional advice?
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) may have more ways to help patients with swallowing and adjusting to life after being diagnosed with dysphagia. A registered dietitian (RD) can also answer questions or concerns about meeting your specific nutritional needs.5
By having a better understanding of the applications and benefits of a dysphagia diet, dysphagia patients and their loved ones can approach meal time with less apprehension, while also ensuring that they safely receive the nutrition they need for the healthiest possible outcomes.
- Carlene Russell, MS, RD, LD, FADA, “Dining With Dysphagia,” The Master Track Series, Dietary Managers Association, 2003.
- Grossbauer, Sue, “Medical Nutrition Therapy for Dietary Managers”, 2014, www.dmaonline.org.
- Disease and conditions: Dysphagia. 2009, Mayo Clinic Staff.
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2001b). Knowledge and skills for speech-language pathologists providing services to individuals with swallowing and feeding disorders in press. In Rockville, MD: Author.