Swallowing is complex
Although we may take it for granted, the process of eating and drinking is really quite complicated. It relies on all of our senses, mental control and muscle strength to work safely. When we talk about difficulty swallowing we refer to the reduced ability to get food and drink into the mouth, as well as an increased risk to health due to problems arising when chewing and swallowing.
For the body to be able to use the nutrition available in food the following actions must be successful:
- The co-ordination of the eyes and muscles to use tools, pick things up and move them to the mouth
- The strength of muscles in the mouth to hold food and drink so that it can be dealt with effectively
- Well preserved teeth to process foods of different textures
- The co-ordination, strength and endurance of muscles in the mouth and upper throat
- The effective movement of protective systems which ensure food and drinks follow the correct route
Things can easily go wrong to cause difficulty swallowing
Everyday things can affect any of these processes. such as:
- Damage to the mouth caused by abrasions, burns or infection
- Damage to the bones and muscles of the hands, arms, torso, neck and head
- Short term infections, illnesses and the actions of medication
- Poor oral hygiene or ill fitting dentures
- Short term reduction in sight caused by infections, illness or incorrect glasses
Although these problems might be short term simple changes to the way you approach mealtimes will help. Adaptations will allow you to maintain a balanced diet, reduce the risk of weight loss, improve recovery and stay hydrated.
Sadly, there are times when difficulty swallowing, known as dysphagia, is a more long term problem; a result of a disease or condition. The most common condition causing swallowing difficulties is stroke occurring in up to 76% of cases*. The many effects of suffering a stroke can reduce the abilities at every stage of swallowing.
Help with difficulty swallowing
In this section we will show you the choices you can make that will allow you to maintain a balanced, healthy and enjoyable relationship with food. You can make Simple adaptations to the food you love to eat to help with short and longer term difficulties.
There are many health care professionals involved in the safe management of people the difficulty swallowing and improvements in safety and quality are of the highest priority. IDDSI has researched and implemented a global framework for describing food and drinks textures suitable for dysphagia. This has been endorsed in the UK by the BDA and RCSLT and will be in full effect by the beginning of April 2019. To find out more about IDDSI click HERE.
An easy way to improve your knowledge of dysphagia and how to safely manage the condition, improve the experience at mealtimes and make delicious food for people in need is to take our eLearning courses. For access our in-depth on-line training on understanding dysphagia, catering for dysphagia and caring for people with dysphagia click HERE.
*RCSLT Dysphagia Fact Sheet – Found at the above link