Dysphagia and Nutrition Tips from Give a Care

What is dysphagia and seriously . . . is that really how it’s spelled? You might have spelled it with an ’s’ like this, dysphasia. While pronounced the same, the former with a ‘g’ is the difficulty or discomfort with swallowing, and the latter is the loss of language and ability to communicate due to brain injury. On this blog, we’re talking about the swallowing one with a ‘g’, dysphagia.

Dysphagia is regularly diagnosed as a symptom of an existing illness, like Mom’s MS that has weakened her muscles used to swallow and so aspiration occurs. A dysphagia diet isn’t just about soft foods and thickened liquids and making sure no one chokes though – dysphagia for us is about overall health and finding a balance between getting enough healthy food to eat and being able to swallow it too.

This is the struggle I encountered in caring for my mother after she was put on a pureed diet over two years ago. Thinking about what was actually in the food she was eating fell way down the list below managing her trouble swallowing, her utter exhaustion from eating, and the dehydration from not drinking enough thickened liquids. Turns out though that whole foods like dark leafy greens and squash and avocado could actually promote better brain function and overall health – that meant stronger mental clarity and a greater strength with which to eat and swallow.

So it simply became a matter of taking the time, trying new things and making a real effort to ditch processed foods. The Blendtec high-power blender my brother bought for mom definitely empowered us to go for it . . . no pun intended.

We met with lots of speech pathologists and nutritionists over the years who had insights and helpful tips, but no one truly discussed with us the benefits of eating whole, healthy foods to help with dysphagia. There was a lot of Ensure pushing (and don’t get me wrong, we’re an Ensure a day kinda family), a lot of “does your mom take a multi-vitamin”? and a lot of, “just mush it up with your fork and feed it to her.” (Side note: We have had a speech therapist recommend we blend up mac and cheese, which you can’t b/c of the gluten in pasta, and mash up scrambled eggs with a fork, which mom of course choked on. Do what’s right for your loved one, you know them best, and seemingly practical medical advice isn’t always spot on).

I know cases vary patient to patient so the specialists charged with a 15 minute check-in during your hospital stay rarely have the full picture, and I won’t fault them entirely for some bad advice. But I think there is something to a lack of investment in healthy food/diet education that the medical professionals tasked with helping caregivers are missing.

And this is why we I end up here, with this article you’re reading now and my blog, to educate caregivers dealing with dysphagia issues on what can truly make the biggest difference for your loved one – healthy food and healthy hydration. I’ll share lots of recipes, and tips for hydration on Give a Care, as well as practical ideas for preventing aspiration pneumonia, favorite products and thickeners, and a ‘whole mind’ approach to handling dysphagia. Join me!

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