Good nutrition and hydration vital for good health in the elderly

As part of National Nutrition and Hydration Week (14-20 March), Ludlow Street Healthcare is doing its bit to shine a spotlight on the importance of good nutrition and hydration, especially amongst the elderly.

Nutrition and Hydration Week is an annual event created to highlight, promote and celebrate improvements in the provision of nutrition and hydration locally, nationally and globally.

One condition which is common among elderly patients, but not often talked about, is Dysphagia which causes problems swallowing certain foods and liquids. The condition, which can be caused by conditions that affect the nervous system such as Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), dementia or cancer, can lead to weight loss or repeated chest infections.

At St Peter’s Hospital in Newport, which provides treatment and care for patients with complex dementia or ABI, many of whom are elderly, patients are given dietetic assessments on arrival to ensure that all their nutritional and hydration needs, including Dysphagia, are identified and met by the in-house catering team from the outset.

Dysphagia can be treated with careful management often utilising special exercises created by speech and language therapists or changing the consistency of food and liquid to make it easier to swallow.

One of the main things advocated by the catering team at St Peter’s is texture modified meals, where foods may be pureed, chopped, mashed, minced or made soft to reduce the likelihood of choking.

Olivia Ferrari, Hospital Director at St Peter’s Hospital said, “Dysphagia management requires a team approach. The complexity and inter-related nature of the needs involved mean that a lot of input is needed.

“For patients who have dysphagia, the catering team at St Peter’s offers texture modified meals from external specialist suppliers, Apetito, with different meals given to different patients as needed.

“If people feel that they are going to choke when they’re eating or drinking, the most likely scenario is that they will stop eating, or at the very least do so with great trepidation. The negative impact this can have on people’s health – through malnutrition and dehydration – can be debilitating. By identifying issues early and starting off with slightly softened food and gentle exercises, we are able to address the issue before it gets worse.”

It isn’t just the elderly who can face Dysphagia issues, it can also occur in younger people who have conditions such as cerebral palsy.

Olivia went on to suggest, “For anyone who is concerned that a family member might be struggling with Dysphagia, the first step is to speak to their doctor. They might even refer them to a speech and language therapist who can identify exercises for them to try.

“They can also try texture modified food at home. For example, Apetito’s range is available to the general public through their sister company, Wiltshire Farm Foods.”

St Peter’s Hospital is owned and run by healthcare specialists, Ludlow Street Healthcare. Established in 2005, Ludlow Street Healthcare has supported and cared for over 800 people with complex mental health conditions. More information about St Peter’s Hospital and Ludlow Street Healthcare’s other services is available on their website