Written by Megan Batzer, M.A., CCC-SLP
With the holidays upon, there is one thing on many folks’ minds: food. We see advertisements for turkey, our kindly neighbor brings us cookies, and we anxiously await Uncle Ed’s famous stuffing. Professionally, I spend my days thinking about food – but in a different way than most. As a speech-language pathologist (SLP), my job is to help those who have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). Dysphagia can occur for many reasons: stroke, traumatic brain injury, neurological disease, pulmonary issues, age, and the list goes on.
The job of an SLP is to analyze what happens from the time a bite of stuffing or sip of cider enters the mouth to the moment when it reaches the esophagus. During that short trip, any number of things can go wrong and result in food “going down the wrong way” or “getting stuck” which can lead to numerous complications. Once the issue is identified, a SLP makes recommendations for how the individual with swallowing difficulties can be safer when eating and drinking. Recommendations are tailored for each person experiencing the difficulties and range from something as simple as a change in posture or behavior to altering the texture of food or thickness of drinks. Sometimes, an exercise plan is recommended to strengthen the swallow. (Yes, there are exercises to strengthen one’s tongue!)
The holidays are times when SLPs and caregivers are on red alert. Not for sales or enticing treats, but for the safety of folks who have dysphagia. Sharing a meal is an important social ritual. We want everyone at the table to enjoy what is being served. It is vital to ensure recommended diet textures are followed, and strategies are utilized.
There are simple ways to implement these recommendations. Is it recommended that you or your loved one have a puree diet? Consider serving mashed potatoes, pureed turkey (pureed with water and gravy in a blender until smooth), cranberry puree (a Google search will take you to a number of recipes) and round it off with a slice of pumpkin pie sans crust. Delicious and safe!
From Progressive Rehab’s table to yours, enjoy the food, family, and fun of the holidays.