The Importance of Dining with Dignity
Good relationships are important for our mental wellbeing. As well as helping to build a sense of belonging and self-worth, such relationships also provide an invaluable opportunity to share positive experiences. NHS England advises arranging a fixed time to eat meals with family or friends, as a key step to mental wellbeing — providing a direct correlation between the effects that eating with others can have on our state of mind (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/improve-mental-wellbeing/) At a time when we, as a nation, are living through a pandemic which prevents us from socialising with friends and family, eating together is proving more problematic than ever.
With the current lockdown situation, the joy and ability to share experiences with others has been significantly diminished and now, more than ever, it is essential to find joy in other comforts, however small they may seem in comparison. Food is the perfect antidote to isolation; the smell, taste and texture all combine to create a comforting sensory experience. Equally important is the visual appearance of food and dining with dignity; something which can be challenging for people who are living with dysphagia. Not only can the complications of dysphagia be life-threatening, it also has a significant impact on quality of life (Zalatel, 2016). This is something which married couple, Andy and Lesley, experienced first-hand for themselves.
When it emerged that the lump on Andy’s throat was in fact cancer, the couple were understandably devastated. Having always cherished spending mealtimes together, their lives changed dramatically when Andy’s condition worsened after intense treatment: “Seven weeks of chemo and radiotherapy had an awful effect on my throat, which became very sore. My jaw started to shrink, impacting how wide it could open. I’d developed a lymphoedema on my neck and throat which stayed closed and led to dysphagia.”
(Watch Andy's full story here)
After attempting to blend his own food, which brings with it its own challenges, such as inconsistencies in the textures achieved and the likelihood of diluting the nutritional content, Andy was not getting the sufficient calories and other nutrients that he needed on a daily basis.
Christmas had previously been a time spent enjoying meals with the family, but that particular year they did not want to put grandchildren through the distressing sight of Andy struggling to eat. As a result, they kept family away and it was the worst Christmas they had ever had.
Lesley explains the challenges they faced following the impact treatment had on Andy’s diet: “We were struggling to find something different every day that he could eat, as it needed to be this really smooth consistency. We mentioned it to the hospital team, and they said to give Wiltshire Farm Foods a call, as they do all sorts.”
The range and variety of meals has really impressed Andy; having endured home-blended food for so long, being able to go back to some more solid food was a revelation: “It helped tremendously to build up calories I need on a daily basis. I’m a curry man, I love a curry. I’m not able to eat a proper one yet, but I’ve had texture modified curry from Wiltshire Farm Foods and really enjoyed it.”
Since discovering Wiltshire Farm Foods, the couple have not looked back. Their lifestyle has changed dramatically as they are now able to have eat together. Andy will put a meal in the microwave and Lesley will cook for herself so it is all timed and they can enjoy their respective dishes: “As Andy has become stronger and been able to eat more, we’ve received lots of advice from Wiltshire Farm Foods, as they’ve recommended different meals for us. We’ve been going back on a weekly basis. The food’s good, the staff are great. From my point of view, it couldn’t have been any better.”
Company dietitian for Wiltshire Farm Foods, Emily Stuart, explains the challenges involved and how these can be overcome: “When you are living with dysphagia, it can be extremely tough to manage your condition and ensure you do not become malnourished, dehydrated, or both. While some people can successfully blend their own foods to a safe texture, sadly this is not possible for most.
One of the keys of ensuring the safety of texture modified food is the consistency of the texture. For example, if you have been recommended to have a level 4 puree consistency by your speech and language therapist, your food should meet several criteria, such as to all be of a consistent pureed texture, without any lumps, and not require any chewing. This can be very difficult to achieve using home-blending equipment, which can lead to the meal becoming unsafe for the person.
Food that is not of the appropriate texture for someone with dysphagia can lead to serious consequences. These include, but are not limited to, aspiration pneumonia and choking. Some people choose to add liquid to meals and foods when they are home-blending. While this may help achieve the correct texture, it also increases the volume and, depending on the type of liquid used, potentially decreases the nutritional content.
Buying ready-prepared texture modified meals can provide a solution. Not only is the nutritional content carefully controlled and available to view on the packaging, great care is taken to ensure the meals look appetising — something that can easily be lost when homeblending. When texture modified meals resemble the appearance of regular food as far as possible, it makes it easier for the person with dysphagia to enjoy a meal.”
The range of texture modified dishes available from Wiltshire Farm Foods can greatly help towards or ensure that those living with dysphagia meet their nutritional requirements. Not only this, but their appetising appearance is a delight for all the senses. The Puree Petite range is designed with dysphagia and malnutrition in mind, with smaller portioned meals still containing at least 500 calories and 15 grams of protein in each meal.
Zalatel (2016) Dysphagia. Clin Nutrition 14: 51–2