Working with Patients with Dysphagia During the Holiday Season
Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, I realize that many families and
caregivers, as well as staff, struggle to include the elderly patient with
swallowing or cognitive-communication impairments in the holiday celebrations.
If Mom or Dad have swallowing or memory deficits, it definitely impacts the
celebration. It's awkward to talk about turkey, stuffing and gravy if a loved
one is eating puree. So what to do?
Learn how to turn regular foods in easily chewable foods. Mix regular foods
like stuffing or potatoes into gravy and so on. Talk to families about pureed
options, like sweet potato casseroles (no pecans for pureed diets!) or thick
- Work with families so that they can be ok
if holiday traditions change. Talk to them and tell people not to make a big
deal out of any changes and also not to "quiz" patients about holidays past.
Let them know they can enjoy the moment with their loved one without worrying
that old traditions are lost or forgotten; celebrate in the moment.
- Keep the family member/patient happy.
Don't over-correct, but do give feedback. Mom might love to eat cornbread
dressing, but if she does not swallow it well, it can make family members tense
to hear her cough frequently. Remind family members of swallow strategies:
sometimes coughing or throat clearing and re-swallowing are real strategies to
assist the resident through a meal.
- Let the patient lead. Ask the patient
if they mind watching others eat a regular diet, or if they would like to dine
separately to avoid craving favorite dishes.
- Recipes and talk of holiday dinners
often invoke strong memories! You may hear a new tale about a resident's past.
Encourage conversation, and remind families that it is fine that their grandpa
might repeat the same old holiday story several times in a day!
- Get out the photo albums! Tell families
to reminisce with the patient and have real conversations. A very quiet patient
often becomes more verbal when talking about past events and holiday traditions.
- Respect all beliefs, and never assume a
patient shares your beliefs. Some patients and families will celebrate
differently or not at all.
- And best of all, spread love and joy!
Have a wonderful holiday season!