As a caregiver, you will very likely encounter patients with Dysphagia. This condition means difficulty swallowing and can affect the health and well-being of your patients. There are safety concerns associated with dysphagia that all caregivers should be aware of, but there are also plenty of tips and guidance on how to manage your patients successfully. This article compiles some useful tips to keep your patient healthy, happy, and safe.
With or without a diagnosis, it is important to be aware of the clinical signs of dysphagia so that you can monitor patients and seek help if you feel they require a formal diagnosis or additional support. There are many signs to look for and it is recommended you become confident in the causes, signs and risks involved with dysphagia. Some of the common signs of dysphagia include:
- Difficulty swallowing, eating, or drinking
- Coughing and choking during meals, or after meals
- The patient feels pain when swallowing
- Unintentional weight loss
Make meals more varied, balanced, and delicious. You should ensure you are equipped with plenty of recipes that your patients enjoy, to ensure they keep up their weight and enjoy mealtimes. You can alter the thickness and consistency to suit the individual needs of your patients – the IDDSI framework can be used as an aid when prepping meals for patients.
Staying hydrated is important, especially as thin liquids are to be avoided. If patients enjoy particular beverages, you may wish to use thickeners such as Simply Thick which can be added to most hot and cold beverages to alter the thickness. For safety, the powder should be kept out of reach of patients – drinks should be mixed by staff and caregivers.
Medication could be given with puddings, applesauce, or as oral suspensions with added thickener, as a safe alternative to water. Please note: You should always seek advice on whether they can be crushed, as some should not be. There may also be certain foods they should not be given with – so consult the pharmacist about your patient’s medications.
Dysphagia, especially alongside other conditions, may make mealtimes tiring. Making smaller meals spread throughout the day will help alleviate this, rather than trying to make your patients eat everything in three meals.
One of the main concerns with dysphagia is the aspiration of drinks or foods. Choking and aspiration pneumonia are both things to avoid, but you should also monitor the nutritional intake and hydration of your patients. For safer swallowing, use the following tips:
- Correct Posture – Ensure patients are sat fully upright when eating or drinking, not slouching lying down. They may also need support to hold their head up.
- Eating and Drinking – Encourage smaller bites and sips, slower eating, chewing foods sufficiently, as well as swallowing foods before trying to take in more. Drinks should not be used to wash down food. Talking while eating is also not recommended.
- Avoid Straws – They can cause patients to take in fluids more quickly than they can swallow safely.
- Foods to Avoid – Avoid foods that may turn liquid, such as ice cream which becomes a thinner liquid as it melts. Consider using thickeners or blending ice cream with banana for example.
Dysphagia can be a challenge, but with patience and care, you can support your patients and look after their health and wellbeing.