Did you know that almost half of all stroke survivors experience dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing? It is one of the most common nutrition-related issues for post-stroke patients, which results from damage to the areas of the brain that control swallowing.
This can lead to a range of challenges such as coughing or choking while eating or drinking, difficulty initiating a swallow, or food or liquid entering the lungs (aspiration), which could lead to lung infection.
The patient’s speech and language therapist will evaluate their condition to determine the nature and extent of their swallowing difficulties. Based on the results, they will discuss the most appropriate treatment or management plan for his or her specific needs.
This usually involves:
1. Different food textures
A texture-modified diet focuses on changing the texture of food to make it easier to swallow. In 2002, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the United States developed the National Dysphagia Diet, which provides guidelines for different levels of food preparation:
When it comes to drinks, people with dysphagia often struggle with thin liquids such as water, tea, coffee, and juice. The speech therapist may recommend that their liquids be thickened before drinking. Using flavourless gels or starches can easily transform any liquid into a consistency that’s easier for them to manage.
The International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative has also created a liquid description specifically for people with dysphagia. Drinks are ranked from 0 to 4 on this scale:
2. Techniques to improve swallowing
The speech therapist may also teach specific techniques such as swallowing exercises, proper head and body positioning during meals, and strategies to avoid choking or aspiration.
3. Aids for easier eating or drinking
There are various aids that can help make eating and drinking easier and safer for individuals with dysphagia. These may include special utensils, cups, or straws designed for people with swallowing difficulties.
The patient’s therapist can provide recommendations on the most suitable aids for his or her needs.
With the right support and guidance, regaining the ability to swallow after a stroke is possible. Most patients with dysphagia do experience some improvement within just two weeks.
That said, it is important to remember that recovery can vary from person to person.
This article was written by DOC2US, a mobile application that allows you to talk to a doctor or any healthcare professionals via text chat at any time and from anywhere.