Assistance for Those with Dysphagia

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Daily, patients, professionals, families, and caregivers face difficulties related to dysphagia. Dysphagia can carry risks of pneumonia, malnutrition, and dehydration. The guide describes dysphagia’s characteristic signs (difficulty swallowing saliva, frequent drooling, expressions of discomfort during meals, cough, food retention in the mouth, etc.). In principle, oral feeding should be maintained whenever possible, due to its social implications and the psychological impact it entails for both the patient and their families. It isn’t often spoken about in great detail, but many things impact lifestyle, caused by this issue. 

The Swallowing Action

Swallowing is made up of two phases, one voluntary and the other involuntary. First, you decide when to introduce the food, chew it, and swallow it. In the second, the nerves send a message to the brain to activate the muscles necessary for food to pass smoothly from the pharynx to the esophagus and finally to the stomach. Dysphagia is not a disease in itself but is a symptom that appears due to other complications, such as having Parkinson’s, suffering a stroke or paralysis that causes the tongue, throat muscles, and esophagus function poorly.

Normal swallowing consists of 3 phases (oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal), in which more than 30 muscles intervene. It is usually repeated about 600 times a day consciously and about 2,000 unconsciously. After the start of swallowing, the food bolus takes between 11 and 16 seconds to complete. As it passes through the oropharyngeal cavity, the food bolus activates some receptors that initiate the swallowing reflex, controlled by the central nervous system. Among other data recorded by medical surveys in Europe, it indicates that patients with traumatic brain damage present dysphagia in 25% of cases. In Parkinson’s disease, the prevalence is 52%. And in the case of dementias, among which Alzheimer’s stands out, they present with dysphagia, the latter being up to 80%. In turn, remember that 60% of patients with multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis also suffer from dysphagia.  

Assistance and tips.

There are, however, some strategies that can be implemented by the patient, with the assistance of a medical professional. Maintaining good oral hygiene and correct denture placement is vital for people with swallowing issues and maintaining good posture when eating and drinking. 

Encourage closing the lips tightly and chew exaggeratedly: but with the mouth closed. When swallowing, have them hold their breath, rest their chin on their chest, and swallow food with force. Take more than one drink without food to eliminate food residues that may remain in the mouth. Please encourage them to cough forcefully when they have finished eating. This will remove the remains that may be in the mouth, throat, or vocal cords, remembering the importance of swallowing saliva and should be done with an awareness of it. After each meal, sitting upright for a while can avoid reflux from food. 

Suitable foods

A person with dysphagia cannot eat solid, dry, sticky, or food that is liquid when chewed (as is the case with certain fruits). That is why meals must be properly prepared without forgetting that the diet must be rich and varied. A great ally is very nutritious, unique dishes. It is better to have several meals a day than to try to feed him a feast in one.

Food should be smooth and even consistent. They should be foods of soft and homogeneous consistency, such as purees, then solid foods because they will tire less when eating. Very thin foods/drinks can cause choking. To avoid this, liquid and solid can be combined to form a homogeneous paste. The texture can be adapted using thickeners, such as water gelatin; however,other options are available. New interventions could provide major benefits, such as using a new formula, such as SimplyThick which has many proven benefits. 

With new ideas, you can look to the future

Innovative ideas can lead to better solutions in the future. One of the larger consequences of dysphagia is the deterioration in patients’ quality of life who suffer from it. To a great extent, these patients suffer from frequent mood disorders, depression, among others, about the situation that prevents them from participating in the common table with their family and friends. This in itself is a poor outlook for people with the condition.

On many occasions, patients stop eating for fear of choking. Sometimes they isolate themselves because they do not share the distressing and stressful moment for them that eating supposes. Sometimes, patients describe that it is difficult for them to take the pills of their usual medication or that food sticks to them, and they have to cough harder to clear their throat. However, ensuring that they are adequately fed and using good quality thickeners can learn to swallow more effectively therefore being able to digest food easier and maintain a healthier lifestyle.