Diet, Disability and Dignity

Many people living with a disability have problems with swallowing foods and beverages. Dysphagia is the term that describes difficulties or discomfort with swallowing.  Untreated swallowing problems can lead to serious health consequences including aspiration, dehydration and malnutrition. Treatment often encompasses changing the texture of foods to make them easier to swallow and increasing the thickness of liquids for a more manageable flow rate. While dietitians ensure people are meeting their hydration and nutrition needs, the required level of food and fluid texture is prescribed by a speech pathologist.

To make mealtimes safer for those with dysphagia, standard meals as often minced, pureed or covered with a sauce or gravy. Swallowing is easier when food is in these forms. However, it is at this step of modification that the dignity in the diets of people with disability can sometimes disappear. Time-pressed carers serving people with dysphagia often forget that eating is not solely about nutrition. Meals get pureed in single patched and served in manners best described to resemble “a dog’s breakfast”.   

When caring for people with swallowing problems and aiming to optimise their nutritional intake we can not forget that eating involves all 5 of our senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch). Each sense has an important role in helping to achieve the enjoyment of mealtimes. We must remember that eating is a pleasurable and enjoyable activity that serves as a social pursuit as well as nutritional necessity. We must remember that the visual appeal of a mealtime significantly contributes (or hinders) the pleasure of a mealtime and that dignity in meal-preparation is required to achieve both pleasure and optimal nutrition.

At Ambrosia Dietetics we are passionate about supporting people living with swallowing problems to enjoy mealtimes and meet their nutritional requirements. We work with individuals, carers and support staff to develop approaches that meet their mealtime goals and enjoyment. Contact us to find out how we can help you, your carers or organisation to balance nutrition with eating pleasure.