Swallowing...it might be something you don't think too much about, but for a number of people with a learning disability, it can cause a great deal of distress and discomfort. To mark World Swallowing Awareness Day, we are sharing information on Dysphagia.
Dysphagia is a medical term to describe a difficulty swallowing. The condition is more common among people with learning disabilities who have a physical disability such as cerebral palsy, those who have a physical disability of the palate, teeth or tongue; and those with complex health needs.
People with dysphagia may experience difficulty chewing, may choke when eating or drinking and experience persistent drooling, which can result in that person choking, becoming dehydrated, experiencing malnutrition and aspiration, where food migrates into the lungs.
Supporting someone with Dysphagia
The way to support someone with swallowing difficulties while eating and drinking will be unique to that person and the specific difficulties they have. You should take into consideration a number of aspects of the whole eating and drinking experience. These may include:
- A referral to a Speech and Language Therapist who will assess and provide written guidance on the best way to support the person.
- Ensure the person is supported with good oral hygiene. If the person has pain from their mouth then they may find it uncomfortable to eat. Good support with oral hygiene will minimise this.
- Position of the person as they eat and drink – usually, this would be sitting upright to allow gravity to support the food to go down, including for approximately 30 minutes after they have eaten or had a drink, though this may vary for each person.
- Make sure that the food and drink looks good and is appetising for the person. If it needs to be softened or pureed then keep the different foods separate.
- Support the person to express their food preferences. This will include what they like or do not like as well as any cultural or religious preferences. If these are followed then the person is more likely to want to eat and drink.
- Ensure that the food and drink is at an optimum temperature for the person. If it is too hot this can make choking more likely.
- Think about the equipment used and whether it is suitable to allow for the person to be as independent as possible; think about non-slip mats, thicker handled utensils, plates with sides or stay warm plates.
For more information on Dysphagia, take a look at our 'Wellbeing for Life - Swallowing Difficulties' booklet.