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How to improve nutrition for your residents with Dysphagia and help them to enjoy more dignified mealtimes.

I would like you to imagine that, following a stroke you are unable to chew or swallow food and drink normally or to safely pass liquid or solid foods from your mouth to your stomach.

As a result of this, and in order to minimise the risk of you aspirating or choking, you are prescribed a texture modified diet, where your meals have to be pureed down to a smooth, moist and uniform consistency. You become increasingly dependent on carers at mealtimes to assist you, no longer are you able to enjoy dignified, independent eating, which can be both degrading and upsetting.

You are served your pureed meals either all mixed up in one bowl, where all ingredients have been pureed down together and which look colourless and smell and taste disgusting, (I know as I have tasted this, and it made me cry) or a number of coloured blobs on a plate where the individual foods have been pureed separately, at least, but are unrecognisable and unidentified, therefore you don’t know what you are eating.

Would you want to be served food that looked like this?


Or one like this? Is it scoops of ice cream?!

It may take you longer to physically consume your meals, meaning that your food can go cold and unappetising; no one likes to eat food which has gone cold right?

How would you feel if you, or one of your loved ones, were presented with either of the above meals? Would you want to eat them?

And if your answer is no, then why would it be considered acceptable to present these meals to people with Dysphagia?

After all, we all eat with our eyes first.

You could easily lose your appetite and not want to eat meals presented in this way, resulting in weight loss, depression and anxiety, or fear at mealtimes which can exacerbate malnutrition. Secondary complications could include constipation, poor wound healing, increased susceptibility to infection and impaired muscle function.

So managing, the ladies and gents you support with Dysphagia and ensuring that they maximise on the correct levels of nutrition and hydration represents a huge challenge to care managers, and their teams, given that these residents are at high risk of being deficient due to consistently having to eat an altered consistency of meals, which can offer less nutritional value, and finding it difficult to tolerate large volumes of fluids.

And Dysphagia is known to affect between 53%-74% of nursing home residents. It may occur in people who have a Dementia, stroke, motor neurone disease and other neurological conditions

What are the warning signs and symptoms to look out for?

  • Coughing or choking
  • Watery eyes
  • Changes in eating habits – eating more slowly or avoiding certain foods
  • Frequent throat clearing
  • Difficulty holding food in the mouth and drooling
  • Feeling food is stuck in the throat
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • ‘Wet’ or gurgly voice
  • Recurring chest infections
  • Vomiting or regurgitation

If you notice any of the above signs it is important to make a referral to SALT (Speech and Language Therapist) for an assessment.

Our top tips to help you support people with Dysphagia achieve optimal nutrition and hydration

1 - Oral Hygiene

  • Good oral hygiene is really important as any oral pain can make chewing difficult and uncomfortable.
  • Make sure that dentures are correctly fitted

2 - Assisting a person at mealtimes

  • Ensure the person is alert and sitting upright before offering food and drink
  • Gently rubbing their cheek or neck may help to prompt them to swallow.
  • If, due to their condition they are slow eaters, consider the use of a ‘Keep Warm Plate’ or bowl to help keep their meals warmer and more palatable for linger.

3 - Fortification of meals

A texture-modified diet should ideally meet the recommended daily allowance of energy, protein and micronutrients for a meal. However, due to poor nutrient density, high dilution factor and limited palatability, modified consistency meals are known to result in significant weight loss. In view of difficulties in achieving an adequate nutritional intake from a modified consistency diet alone, food fortification may be necessary.

  • In preference to water, liquids added to pureed/semi-solid foods should have some nutritional value
  • Higher calorific additions such as full fat milk, cream, butter and sauces provide extra protein, energy and calcium

4 - Meal Presentation

          For people on a pureed diet particularly, meal presentation is as fundamental as the dish itself. We all eat with our eyes and it is common for people with a Dementia to refuse to eat what they can’t recognise.

It’s so important to ensure that food always look appetising and is attractively presented using colour and contrast on the plate for everyone, regardless of their condition so that no one is isolated or treated differently.

The clever use of food molds is an increasingly popular tool to help recreates the original shapes of pureed foods as family members and care caterers understand their key benefits:

  • Improved meal presentation and nutrition
  • Increased dignity and enjoyment at mealtimes
  • Greater meal variety
  • Reduced preparation time and wastage

But don't just take our word for it, read below what a difference it made for one 12 year old little girl and her enjoyment at mealtimes when her Mum started to shape her foods with our range of food molds.

"My daughter is 12 years old. She has diagnosis' of Down's syndrome, oral dysphagia, autism, sensory processing disorder and food intolerances. I have only been able to give her pureed or mashed food which she was not particularly interested in. She is assisted while eating. The first time she saw her 'food molded' dinner she shouted, "carrots!". The second time she wanted to know what every bit of food was on her plate. This time I had used parsnips in the carrot mold. "What's that, what's that?", she said as she used a fork to scoop up individual pieces of dinner into her mouth with glee. I have neither the time, energy nor interest for 'faffing' about these days so the molds are extremely practical. Easy to clean, easy to fill with food, easy to freeze and the frozen food just pops out. I have made batches of vegetables, meat and fruit, popped them out of the molds and stored them in another container in the freezer to use later. One can use the broccoli mold for cauliflower and sprouts. The pumpkin mold for turnip and sweet potato and as I mentioned earlier parsnip in the carrot mold. But what is most important is that my daughter is beginning to enjoy her meal times and showing greater independence .... because of the molded food. From my experience, the silicon food molds have been a success." - Mrs Dewery, Private Customer

5 - The use of food thickeners

Food thickeners are used to thicken liquids and foods to various consistencies, helping to slow the transit of foods and fluids to allow more time to coordinate the swallowing process safely, thus preventing food and fluid entering the lungs and causing serious complications including chest infections and death due to choking or aspirational pneumonia.

They are added to pureed foods prior to placing in the food molds to help retain the food shape and to create the appealing finish.

Regular staff training should take place to ensure that the correct volume and amount of thickener is used for both foods and fluids, to ensuring safe and acceptable consumption for the resident.

6 - Varying the menus.

The more varied and interesting the menu choices are for residents on pureed diets the greater chance of increased acceptability of foods and nutritional intake.

7 - Training - a whole team effort

Where I have witnessed the best success stories for improving mealtime experience for residents with Dysphagia is where the whole team including management, care staff and catering teams have all embraced the concept of ‘why we want to achieve this’ to ensure continued and sustainable improvements.

We have teamed up with experienced and passionate care industry chef/trainers to bring you a range of training packages to help educate and inspire care teams to deliver better outcomes for the people they support with Dysphagia.

Please contact us if you would like to learn more details on the training packages available of if you would like to request your FREE copy of our unique and innovative Dignified Dining Solutions Guide designed to help people with a Dementia to eat better.

At [email protected] or by telephone 01773 713713 today.

For more information on Dysphagia and how to help those in your care with it you can visit our blog for more articles about this important topic. 

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