Dysphagia awareness: looking back

22 November 2014

8503846614_ea4c647fbb_mOlivia Hallam is a third year Speech and Language Therapy student at De Montfort University, Leicester. She recently ran a dysphagia awareness campaign alongside two of her course-mates (Rosa Holden and Joanne White). Having spent five days on a soft consistency diet, she summarises her experience here.

Firstly, it didn't match up to any of my preconceptions. I started the week concerned about loss of appetite and a limited social life. In reality I found myself gasping for a glass of un-thickened water, savouring the thinness of my morning mouthwash and resisting the urge to check the seasoning of my food before blending. But it really wasn't all doom and gloom; I enjoyed experimenting with vibrant flavours and found that this compensated for the limited range of textures and I can honestly say that I didn't feel hungry once.

I also learnt plenty of hacks. Although food preparation time is noticeably increased, it becomes second nature to make in bulk and freeze. Whilst food moulds were challenging to use, biscuit cutters and an upturned glass became an ideal alternative. Cornflour proved to be a brilliant substitute to a branded thickening agent whilst thickened hot chocolate fast became the drink of choice.

I wanted to get a holistic experience about what it would be like to live with dysphagia. I was anxious that social stigma would prevent me from wanting to eat and drink in public; but desperately wanted to understand the reactions of friends and strangers who had little to no awareness of swallowing difficulties. Generally people took a ‘rather you than me’ stance, but were interested in why puréed food and thickened fluids might become part of someones everyday life. Although it quickly became clear that being discrete wasn’t really viable, people were much more supportive and understanding than I had anticipated.

As a future clinician, I would say that the challenge has primed me to have a much more balanced view of dysphagia management. I feel that if I were to recommend a modified diet to someone, I would be able to consider all of the contributing factors. This has enabled me to empathise with the impact dysphagia has on a person's whole life, as opposed to viewing it purely from a medical perspective. Therefore, I would highly recommend trying a similar challenge (if only for a few days) to any health care professional working within this field.

During the early stages of the challenge, it quickly became apparent how few people knew about dysphagia, despite it affecting around one in five over fifty year olds. As I began to search online for resources and recipes I realised that there was only a very limited amount of help available. Through my experience I have found that eating a modified diet can leave you feeling very lonely, so I have written diary entries and filmed YouTube clips about the reality of living off a puréed diet and thickened fluids.

I found trying the modified diet was a real eye-opener. To find out more about what I got up to please visit my blog at: ohallamdysphagiaawareness.wordpress.com

If have any questions please don't hesitate to contact me on:  dysphagiaawareness [at] gmail [dot] com

Photo by Frédérique Voisin-Demery via Flickr

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