Dysphagia is another term for swallowing disorder in which a person faces difficulty passing solids or liquids from the mouth to the stomach. He/she may also face difficulties while taking medicines and even while breathing. These people may often lack pharyngeal reflex, or the sensation of swallowing the food. They face difficulties in controlling food or saliva in the mouth, and it is caused due to some paralysis in the throat muscles. Unfortunately, people having Dysphagia are sometimes unaware of having the disorder.
Dysphagia is mostly faced by patients who remain in the hospital for a long time. Although there are many reasons that cause swallowing problems, however, it mostly occurs after a stroke. It is because a stroke affects the brain which hampers a person’s ability to control the muscular movements of the throat and the epiglottis (a flap of elastic cartilage that closes so as to help one swallow solids or liquids down the esophagus or the food pipe). As a result, the risks of inhaling food, commonly known as aspiration, increases, which causes choking and other swallowing disorders, and may even lead to pneumonia. Therefore, a good swallowing problem treatment becomes extremely necessary and it is very important to prevent it by controlling the food intake.
Here are certain preventive measures that must be kept in mind while feeding a person suffering from Dysphagia:
- The liquid consistency of liquid foods should be checked so that it can be easily swallowed by the patient. Depending on the swallowing test performed by a certified Speech Language Pathologist, they will recommend a particular consistency for the liquid based on the Dysphagia patient’s requirements and his/her ability to swallow. Also, liquid thickeners are recommended at good swallowing problem treatment clinics so as to bring any liquid to the correct consistency. However, some patients complain that their thirst is not quenched and the liquid does not taste good. In such a case, lemon ice can be used, as they are very good thirst quenchers.
- Like liquids, the consistency or texture of food should also be checked as recommended by Speech Language Pathologist at recognised centres for swallowing problem treatment, based on the Dysphagia patient’s ability to chew and swallow it. It is also suggested that the food should not be crunchy and crispy, and raw vegetables should also be avoided. It should be as moist and softened as possible, so that the person can easily gulp it down the esophagus or the food pipe. It is always better to have soft foods which are of minced, grinded or even pureed consistencies. In short, the food must be as less chewy as possible. However, many people refuse eating such food, and in that case, spices may be added so as to improve its taste.
- One useful tip is to make the patient avoid ‘pouching’, that is to hold the food back in the cheeks for a long time. It can be very frustrating for the person feeding the Dysphagia patient. Therefore, some speech therapists dealing with swallowing problem treatment recommend stroking the sides of the patient’s cheeks to encourage them to chew and swallow their food.
- As mentioned earlier, lemon ice can be given to the patient after every bite of food, as it acts as a very good swallowing reflex stimulator.
- Some exercises and sitting postures while eating, like tucking the chin to the chest, rotating the head, etc., are recommended by Speech pathologists depending on the type of Dysphagia, so that the patient can find it easier to swallow the solids or liquids. It is also recommended to start eating slowly and with smaller amounts of food, without getting distracted too often. Growing this habit is very effective for a majority of swallowing problem treatment procedures. So, you must closely monitor the patient so as to make him/her avoid choking, coughing, gagging and other such signs of aspiration. It is your responsibility to make a safe and friendly atmosphere while the Dysphagia patient is eating.
- However, some Speech pathologists at good swallowing problem treatment clinics also recommend providing health supplements as the Dysphagia patient might not receive all the essential nutrients from the food they are required to eat.
Being a caring family member of the person suffering from Dysphagia, it needs patience on your part to feed him/her, and you must give the person sufficient time to make him/her get used to it. It should be kept in mind that if an early intervention into swallowing problem treatment, that is the issue of Dysphagia is not properly handled, then it might lead to malnutrition and dehydration, and also various respiratory problems gradually, such as pneumonia and other respiratory infections, as mentioned earlier. Also, the patient needs your mental support and must be motivated so as to make his or her life much easier.