On a daily basis Southcoast Hospitals (Tobey, St. Lukes and Charlton) serves a wide range of dysphagia patients with different dietary restrictions preventing them from eating any foods with heterogeneous textures or consistencies. Given these restrictions, dysphagia patient choices are extremely limited, and sometimes unappealing. Depending on the severity of the dysphagia and any other comorbidities (diabetes, CVD, etc.), options may be even more restrictive to specific patients. For these reasons, patients with modified diets tend to consume less overall, compared to patients on a regular diet. Therefore, the persistent problem is that patients requiring dysphagia diets are not always satisfied with the lack of offerings, variability, and tastes associated with the diet, leading to decreased nutrient intake and increased length of healing, length of stay, and risk of hospital related pressure injuries. As a portion of the project, I analyzed the lack of options for dysphagia patients, their satisfaction related to the food offerings, as well as an overall average intake among this patient group. My results confirmed our initial assumptions, that dysphagia patients were not eating 100% of their meals, and were overall dissatisfied with their meal options.
The SLPs agreed to devote time to this initiative and were scheduled for a taste testing and evaluation at all three Southcoast Hospital sites. Proper thickening amounts and techniques were approved and properly documented by the SLPs. At the end of my food service rotation, the department agreed to initiate offering pureed soups to the appropriate patients in addition to the current offerings.
I was very passionate about this project given how commonly dysphagia presents among patients. Chronic swallowing difficulties such as those in patients with dysphagia, can lead to overall deficient oral nourishment and subsequent generalized weakness, appetite loss, weight loss, dehydration, and malnutrition. For these reasons, delayed healing, increased length of stay and diminished overall quality of life can result. My hope was with this initiative more patients with dysphagia will have access to more tasty, nutritious offerings during their stay at the hospital. In addition, many patients and families may also talk this technique home to increase overall intake and nutritional status.