A 2013 study discovered that as many as 40% of people in permanent-care settings are dysphagic and between 50% to 75% of nursing home residents have some difficulty in swallowing (1). Given that this is such a prevalent problem, and that so many carers are confronted with it several times a day, it’s remarkable how little attention it can receive in non-clinical settings.
Oddly, in one significant way, the Christmas season can actually bring a reduction in this troubling symptom of many serious health conditions – difficulties with swallowing. Why? Because winter’s when we all incline towards more easily consumed foods like pureed soups and richer, thicker drinks such as creamy hot chocolate. And because thickening liquids is a recommended strategy to help people with dysphagia, this can mean that people caring for a family member with swallowing difficulties find the condition is somewhat alleviated simply by the seasonal tendency to choose these kinds of food.
It’s not a winter wonderland if you have dysphagia
On the other hand, there’s all the pressure that the run up to Christmas brings: shopping, cooking, family visits, and end of year exams … every family has its own constellation of things that must be done. For those caring for somebody with dysphagia at home, all these deadlines and issues can cut into the time available to sit with somebody who finds eating and drinking a challenge.
Don’t bring out the figgy pudding …
And then there’s the problem of reflux-related dysphagia and our Christmas diet. A list of the foods that can cause reflux includes: alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, spicy foods, cinnamon and nutmeg. It could just as easily be the shopping list of anyone preparing for Christmas week! While it’s to be hoped that in clinical and permanent care settings, caterers are aware of the likelihood that a traditional Christmas dinner could be a huge dysphagia trigger, it’s still the case that visitors bring in mince pies and chocolates, sausage rolls and Christmas pudding … all things that can be a major contributor to swallowing difficulties.
And at home it’s almost impossible to avoid having all these delicious morsels in our kitchens, which in turn can make it hard not to serve them to our loved ones, especially if they have age-related dysphagia and may respond well to ‘food memories’ when other cues have left them.
Keeping Christmas simple with Kapitex
There are simple solutions to many of the challenges faced by those caring for a dysphagia sufferer outside a care setting. A Speech-Language Therapist can advise carers on a number of compensating strategies to manage food flow and minimise symptoms such as the aspiration of food. Recommending that families keep a checklist of foods that cause problems is one way to ensure they don’t forget, from year to year, that December brings its special problems.
Finally, we recommend the Kapitex Dysphagia Cup as a great tool to help families – and busy care teams – to ensure vulnerable people drink enough fluids. The cup is designed for both hot and cold drinks, and has an extra wide handle to ensure grip function isn’t an issue for those experiencing a more general muscular deterioration.
The crucial feature of the Kapitex Dysphagia Cup is the design of its oval shaped opening, which allows sufficient nose clearance to consume the contents without tilting the head. It also has a detachable base to make it extra stable, perfect for use with a wheelchair or bed tray. And finally, it’s bite safe and shatterproof, making it a durable, reliable contribution to a simpler, healthier daily life for those with dysphagia.
1. Dália Nogueira and Elizabeth Reis. Swallowing disorders in nursing home residents: how can the problem be explained? Clinical Interventions in Aging, Dove Press, February 2013.