Swallowing Awareness Day: Tips to make mealtimes safe and enjoyable

By Staff Writers , 17 March 2021 , Comments

Humans swallow at least 900 times a day, but it’s not something we think about until we start having difficulties.

Wednesday 17 March is Swallowing Awareness Day so we sat down with Northcott Therapy Service Manager Angelina Josevska to get the lowdown on how to manage swallowing issues and ensure we all enjoy a safe and happy mealtime.

Encourage independence

Where possible we should encourage people with swallowing issues (dysphagia) to maintain their independence during mealtimes. This will allow them to develop their skills, and have more choice and control over what they eat and drink.

If the person isn’t able to eat and drink on their it’s important to ask for their permission, if possible, before you offer assistance. Talk to the person about what is on their plate or in their cup, allow them to smell the food and drink, talk about how it was prepared and offer meal options where possible.

Consider presentation

Why do so many of us enjoy looking at pictures of food? Because we eat with our eyes! Just because someone is on a texture-modified diet doesn’t mean they want to sit down to a pile of brown mush.

When preparing pureed and mashed foods in particular, remember that presentation is important. Keep veggies and meat separate rather than mixing them together. Each food can then be enjoyed for its own unique flavour.

Ensure correct consistency

Each person with dysphagia will have their own unique needs in terms of texture modification and thickened fluids. It’s important to understand what type of modified diet a speech pathologist has prescribed, whether that be soft and bite-sized, minced and moist or puree. This will help for a variety of reasons, most importantly to reduce the risk of aspiration pneumonia (significant chest infection resulting from food or drink continuously entering the airway) or choking which can lead to hospitalisation or death.

When thickening fluids, ensure you use the correct ratio of thickener to liquid as this will affect the thickness of the drink. Correct thickness will ensure the fluid can be consumed safely, minimising the rise of choking or aspiration – where food or fluid enters into airway.

Don’t rush

Life is busy and we’re all guilty of rushing through certain aspects of our day, including our meals. While the consequences for healthy individuals may be minimal, for someone with dysphagia a rushed meal can have dire consequences. To ensure safety is maintained, it’s important for carers to sit and enjoy the social aspect of the meal. This will also allow you to keep an eye out for any signs that the person is having difficulty during mealtimes.

Maintain good posture

For people with swallowing issues it’s essential to ensure correct posture during mealtimes. The person should be sitting upright for the duration of the meal and for at least 30 minutes after a meal. This will help to reduce the likelihood of the person with dysphagia experiencing reflux and regurgitation.

If you’re looking for support around mealtimes get in touch with Northcott’s Speech Pathology service.

Related Content

After a delicious dysphagia-friendly recipe for turkey with herb and lemon stuffing? Check out the recipe here.

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