May 04, 2022

How to lighten the burden of dysphagia on family caregivers

SPC dysphagia new hero

The medical term for the difficulty of swallowing food and/or drinking fluids is dysphagia – which can occur for a number of reasons – including stroke, Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease and dementia.

Although the prevalence of this condition in the general population is unclear, conservative estimates suggest that 20% of the elderly population is affected.

The medical effects of dysphagia can include things like dehydration and malnutrition, while choking looms as the second-highest cause of preventable death in aged care and an ever-present worry for family carers.

Texture modified diets are designed to make chewing and swallowing safer for people living with dysphagia, but accommodating these needs can place a significant amount of pressure on family carers when preparing meals for a loved one.

Making clear distinctions between levels of food consistency can be difficult as each individual’s definition of ‘soft’, ‘pureed’ and ‘minced’ can vary, and failing to modify food and drink textures appropriately can have severe ramifications.

Mealtimes are looked upon as a social activity in many households, but the process involved in preparing texture modified foods can be laborious and have a negative impact on family dynamics.

Research shows that in some homes, family carers can feel obliged to eat separately from their loved ones due to a feeling of guilt, while other family carers have reported eating texture modified food themselves out of convenience.

There have been standardised definitions for texture modified food and drink in Australia for over a decade, but the creation of the International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative (IDDSI) has provided caregivers with much clearer definitions and instructions on how to appropriately modify the texture of food and drinks.

Creating texture modified foods that are both safe and appealing to an elderly person can play a pivotal role in their desire to eat and their overall level of nutrition, but changes in food texture should not compromise the quality of ingredients being used.

Experts believe that somewhere between 30-50% of aged care residents experience some level of dysphagia, and many aged care providers rely upon pre-packaged texture modified food and drinks to assist with feeding and keeping residents hydrated.

Iconic Australian brand SPC produces a range of purees, fruits and vegetable products, which have been specifically produced to meet the needs of elderly and impaired Australians that are living with dysphagia.

This range is called SPC ProVital and it has set the standard for high-quality texture modified food supplements in aged care. Conveniently, the ProVital range is available for delivery to people living in their own homes. 

The ProVital range utilises clear, easy-to-read labelling, complete with IDDSI standard texture definitions, so family caregivers can ensure that the food or drink is at the correct consistency for their loved one’s swallowing difficulties.

The packaging of ProVital products was created using guidelines established by Arthritis Australia. This has resulted in easy-to-open, portion-controlled fruit cups that are accessible to consumers with fine motor skills.

Having been a household name brand for over 100 years, many older Australians have grown up on SPC and have positive memories of eating the best homegrown Australian fruits and vegetables.  This feeling of familiarity may also assist in encouraging an individual to eat or drink.

Restrictions to food choice have been attributed to both unintentional weight loss and malnutrition in older people living with dysphagia, which adds an element of pressure to family caregivers who prepare texture modified foods for their loved ones.

Having access to SPC ProVital’s range of ready-made, texture modified fruit snacks at home will be welcome news for many family carers, in particular, those who are familiar with aged care and hospital settings, and the role that this range of products has in these environments.

The demanding nature of family caregiving for older adults has been linked to high levels of stress, which can compromise emotional and physical health. Alleviating this stress hinges on a carer’s ability to access support.

Sharing the responsibility of caring for an elderly relative amongst other family members or care professionals is ideal, but in circumstances where this is not an option, there are a variety of online support groups and training courses that may be of assistance.

Having access to a variety of ready-made, texture modified foods with a long shelf life may only be a small reprieve from some of the day-to-day tasks of a caregiver, but they just might be the right ingredient for a more positive eating experience.

For more information on the SPC ProVital range, click here

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