Many people suffer from dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing. It’s very common in older people, affecting over 13% of seniors and more than 65% of those living in care homes, but younger people can also experience difficulty swallowing. In seniors, it’s often caused by degenerative conditions or weakness of the throat and mouth muscles. In younger people, difficulty swallowing can be caused by neurological conditions or other issues and may be either temporary or permanent.
Improving Nutrition as a Dysphagia Sufferer
While the big risk with dysphagia is aspiration (when liquids and foods go into the lungs, instead of the stomach) which can lead to pneumonia, other very common problems, especially in older people, are malnutrition or dehydration.
Eating and drinking are very difficult for people that have trouble swallowing, and it’s common for there to be weight loss and other health issues caused by a lack of nutrition. Fortunately, there are some things that dysphagia sufferers and their carers can do to improve nutrition and even gain some weight.
Drinking with swallowing difficulties is hard, but it’s more important than ever. You might be tempted to use straws to make things easier but, actually, straws cause liquid to move too quickly to the back of your mouth and into your throat, making aspiration more likely. Instead, try thickeners like Simply Thick. These can be added to any drink, thickening the liquid without changing the taste. This helps the drink to move more slowly and makes it easier to get down the right hole.
Puree Fruit and Veg
What you can and can’t eat might depend on the severity and cause of your swallowing difficulties. Some people can manage fairly normal foods as long as they are careful. Other people can’t manage solids at all. If this is the case, blending fruit and veg is a great way to add nutrition to your diet. Pureed fruits and veg can be enjoyed with other meals or as snacks. They can add flavor and bulk to soups and other foods, and they’ll ensure you are getting plenty of vitamins and minerals in your diet.
Add High Fat Foods
High-fat foods like natural and Greek yogurt, cream, and full-fat milk are great for adding to smoothies, purees, and soups. They work as natural thickeners and increase your calorie intake, without altering the taste too much.
Take Your Time
One of the best ways to both improve nutrition and avoid aspiration is to take your time. Eating can be exhausting for someone with swallowing difficulties, and you should never try to rush yourself. Take breaks when you need to, and consider eating small amounts more often, instead of sticking to more traditional mealtimes.
Adjusting to life with dysphagia is hard. It’s a big adjustment for both patients and carers and it can take a while to get right. But prioritizing both hydration and nutrition from the start can make it much easier to maintain a healthy weight and get appropriate nutrients moving forward. Speaking to your doctor, seeking the advice of a nutritionist, and getting help from online forums and support groups can be a big help.