23rd October 2016

Yes, We Do Need Education on Dysphagia!

Yes, We Do Need Education on Dysphagia!

It is always gratifying to see some of the important health issues prevalent in care homes raised in the health professional press. This month an article written by registered dietitian Helen Willis in Network Health Digest (NHD), looks at dysphagia. The article stresses the importance of education, awareness and team work in helping to improve quality of life for users with dysphagia.

The daily reality of dysphagia for an increasing number of our older population is the fear of choking when eating, or not wanting to eat a meal because the ingredients have been pulverised to such an extent that they lose their flavour.

The NHD article points to estimates from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, that there are 2.5 million people in the UK needing the help of their members - the health professionals that diagnose and monitor dysphagia. Yet there are only 14,000 qualified Speech and Language Therapists practicing in England.

Lack of Diagnosis May Have Adverse Effects On Nutritional Status

A lack of diagnosis means people with dysphagia may not be getting the help that they need or the balanced meals they can swallow to ensure their nutritional needs are met.

There is also an indication of a lack of easily accessible information for those advising and caring for people with dysphagia. Unfortunately, all too often the solution in preparing meals is to simply blend ingredients together to make them easier to swallow. Textures are then adjusted by adding liquid to achieve a desired consistency. This approach can impact on the flavour of the food and therefore impact on the amount that is eaten. Adding water can also reduce the nutrient density of the dish.

Carers May Not Have Sufficient Knowledge and Training to Give the Best Help to People with Dysphagia

It would seem that there is a lack of education and practical information readily available on this important condition. Or a lack of enough training for those working with people with dysphagia on a daily basis. A survey of 213 healthcare professionals (HCPs) on dysphagia found that:

  • Over half felt out of date on the current nutritional treatment approach for dysphagia;
  • More than 70% were concerned about the nutrition or food their dysphagia patients have been eating;
  • Over 50% had seen where not giving texture-modified foods had directly contributed to aspirationin their patients.

Eating food of incorrect consistency can have serious implications for patients with dysphagia. It can lead to malnutrition, dehydration and aspiration of food. More should be done to help us as a nation meet a fundamental and basic aim that everyone can dine with dignity and enjoy their food.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Ayela Spiro

Nutrition Science Manager, British Nutrition Foundation

Ayela is a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, where her role involves providing expert advice on nutrition and health issues to a number of key audiences including consumers, health professionals, charities, the media and the food industry. At the heart of her work is the communication of nutrition science that promotes understanding of nutrition and health and contributes to the improved wellbeing of all.

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