Eating & Drinking - Effortless Enjoyment?
A leisurely breakfast with friends, a delicious lunch with colleagues, or a fancy dinner with family. Eating and drinking are inseparably linked to well-being, enjoyment, and togetherness. Nothing connects us more than the pleasure of food.
However, what if meals become an insurmountable obstacle and even a health hazard? Medically, swallowing disorders are also referred to as dysphagia. They describe the inability to safely and efficiently transport food and beverages from the mouth to the stomach. Behind what seems like an effortless process, one that is automated and unconscious, there hides a multitude of difficulties: swallowing.
Following a variety of different diseases, various symptoms occur: from residues in the mouth or throat, to coughing, clearing one's throat, gagging, and choking on one's own saliva, or even repeated entry of food or liquid into the lungs. Sometimes this poses a life-threatening risk to the health of those affected. Difficulty with food intake, processing, or transportation is very common in acute neurological events such as strokes or head injuries.
But swallowing disorders also occur in diseases such as Parkinson's disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Tumors of the tongue or throat, as well as various forms of dementia, can make eating and drinking a challenge for both those affected and their families.
Speech therapists and dietitians - two important professions in the treatment of swallowing disorders.
Speech therapists are experts in the field of hearing, speech, voice, and swallowing. Together with other medical professionals, speech therapists work as a team in various clinical settings. They care for patients with swallowing disorders from the acute care setting in neurology, through advanced rehabilitation, to home or nursing home care. The rehabilitation of dysphagia can include exercise treatments, adjustments of consistencies and textures, or the use of various aids. Softer, less sticky, and properly minced foods or slowly flowing liquids are easier for patients to control and still allow for oral intake.
Dietitians ensure that the intake of essential nutrients is successful despite swallowing disorders. Among other things, dietitians ensure that the degree of grinding or pureeing for solid foods or thickening for liquids, as determined by speech therapists, is implemented correctly in the kitchen. Food and liquids should have exactly the quality necessary to enable safe swallowing. Dietitians also ensure that these modified foods provide sufficient nutrients, such as protein, as well as enough energy in the form of calories.
What can individuals with swallowing disorders and their family members do?
One way to improve swallowing disorders is the use of so-called texture-modified diets. These special dietary forms are prepared to be easier to swallow and reduce the risk of choking. There are different types of texture-modified diets, such as pureed or mashed foods that can be customized to individual needs. For example, fibrous meat pieces like poultry are pureed and then reshaped into an visually appealing form using a silicone mold.
However, an important task remains raising awareness about this issue. Swallowing disorders are often underestimated. It's crucial for family members and affected individuals to recognize early on that it's a serious problem and seek professional assistance. This includes not only adapting the diet but also assistance with handling utensils and drinking vessels, as well as the opportunity to enjoy eating and drinking calmly and without time pressure.