Dysphagia and Malnutrition


Difficulty swallowing due to dysphagia can lead to numerous other health issues, causing a domino effect for deteriorating health for some patients. The prevalence of dysphagia among older populations across Canada is high, with the condition impacting 1 in 10 people over 50. The number of those impacted is often even higher amongst people in nursing homes and long-term care settings. 

With so many elderly impacted by dysphagia, it’s important to be aware of some of the complications that can arise as a result of the condition. If approached and managed correctly by healthcare professionals, patients and residents suffering from dysphagia can avoid related problems that arise due to the condition, with one of the most common being malnutrition. So how can we ensure people with dysphagia avoid the ill effects of malnutrition? Here are some ways malnutrition can be identified and prevented. 

What are the signs of malnutrition?

Knowing the warning signs of malnutrition will assist caregivers, patients and residents alike in identifying the condition before it escalates and potentially causes further harm. 

The following are some warnings signs for someone who may be experiencing malnutrition: 

  • Reduced appetite
  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Getting ill often
  • Wounds taking longer to heal
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling cold frequently 

How can malnutrition impact overall health?

People experiencing malnutrition often experience related negative side effects on their overall health due to poor nutrition. Some of these can include, but aren’t limited to:

Weakening muscles and bones
With the body not getting the nutrients it needs to maintain strong muscles and bones, patients and residents experiencing malnutrition can be more susceptible to falls, broken bones, poor posture, and decreased mobility as a result. 

Slower healing
Proper nutrition is a vital component in healing from sickness or injury. Malnourishment amongst the sick can make it more difficult for them to tolerate treatments such as chemotherapy since the body needs energy, protein, and vitamins found in food in order to heal properly. 

Organ damage
Not receiving proper nutrients can have damaging, long-term effects on your vital organs, including eyes, brain, kidneys and heart.

How can malnutrition be prevented in patients with dysphagia?

Since patients and residents with dysphagia experience varying levels of difficulty swallowing, consuming the right amount and types of food needed for proper nutrition can prove to be quite difficult. The good news is that there are effective ways to prevent malnutrition in those suffering from dysphagia. These methods will also help improve overall quality of life for patients and residents as they will be receiving the nutrients needed to thrive. 

Early identification and management
Being aware of the signs and symptoms of early dysphagia as well as how to properly manage the condition are crucial in preventing patients and residents from deteriorating further. Coughing or choking when eating or drinking, drooling, pocketing food in the cheeks, facial weakness, and prolonged mealtimes are some of the initial signs a patient and residents could be suffering from dysphagia. 

Integration of an interdisciplinary team of health professionals such as speech language pathologists, dietitians, occupational therapists, and physicians will also assist patients and residents in their management of the condition early on. 

Texture Modified Foods
The most important element in preventing malnutrition in patients with dysphagia is to ensure they’re receiving the proper nutrients via the food they consume. Since eating can be dangerous and painful for patients and residents, it’s important to ensure patients are served nutritious, textured modified food that they can eat safely and regularly. Services like apetito HFS offer a variety of different texture modified foods for nutritious, ready prepared meals that help keep patients with dysphagia safe and healthy. These meals are carefully prepared by chefs who keep nutrition at top of mind. The ready made element makes for easy and quick serving for meals on wheels, long-term care staff, and medical professionals. 

Food Intake Monitoring
This involves tracking the amount and types of food patients and residents consume during each meal and asking for feedback (what they liked, didn’t enjoy, or had a hard time consuming). Nurses often have charting mechanisms to follow for food intake monitoring, however, caregivers who are unfamiliar with effective food in-take monitoring processes, can refer to resources provided by the Canadian Malnutrition Task Force

If patients and residents have deficiencies in certain vitamins or minerals, it will be important to integrate foods that help with their deficiencies and track how frequently they’re consumed in order to see if improvements are made.

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