The ability to swallow and eat and drink easily is important for our health and wellbeing. As clinicians, we can help patients make a smooth transition from the hospital to their home or care facility.
A change in a patient’s swallowing ability can be daunting for an older person and their family to manage once they leave the hospital. To improve outcomes in this area:
- check that the patient understands their treatment goals and provide them with handouts and information to aid in their comprehension
- inform the patient's family and carers about the swallowing issues and ongoing interventions required so they can work closely with the patient to keep them well
- emphasise the importance of maintaining safe swallowing and good nutrition while at home or an alternative care facility
- provide verbal and written information about safe swallowing practices if these have been recommended, as well as oral hygiene and food preparation
- stress the importance of keeping well hydrated to sustain recovery and assist with managing dysphagia; dehydration can lead to a dry mouth and throat which will affect swallowing ability
- ensure the patient and their family and carer are aware of how to take prescribed medication
- provide the patient with information on where to purchase nutritional supplements if needed and check that they have the funds to do so
- consider referring the person to a community dietitian and speech pathologist to provide ongoing support
- refer the patient to social support services if necessary
- There is a risk of older patients with dysphagia becoming socially isolated, as they may be reluctant to eat in front of others1
- Find out if the patient was experiencing social isolation prior to their admission, and help them with strategies and referrals to access support
- recommend that the patient has regular dental checks as dental hygiene is an important factor in managing dysphagia.
1. Ekberg, O., Hamdy, S, Woisard, V, Wuttge-Hannig, A, Ortega, P, Social and psychological burden of dysphagia: Its impact on diagnosis and treatment. Dysphagia, 2002. 17(2): p. 8.