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What is dysphagia and how does it affect your eating habits?

Despite the fact that dysphagia affects people of all ages, there is a worrying lack of education and awareness around what dysphagia actually is.

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Dysphagia gets its name from the Greek ‘dys’ meaning disorder, and ‘phagia' meaning eat. It is the medical term used to describe swallowing difficulties — which may be short or long-term. It occurs when there is nerve or structural damage that interferes with swallowing. This can happen during any part of the swallowing process and varies in degrees: some dysphagia sufferers cannot swallow certain foods or liquids, while other sufferers can’t swallow at all.

Numerous health conditions can cause dysphagia but here are some of the most common causes:

  • An age-related weakening of the muscles which is relatively common in elderly people
  • Neurological conditions such as dementia and stroke
  • Parkinson’s and motor neurone diseases
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Head injuries
  • Cancer, such as mouth, oesophageal and brain cancer
  • Psychological disorders
 

The dangers of dysphagia

There are two types of dysphagia — ‘high’ or ‘low’. ‘High' dysphagia is caused by the mouth or throat (it is also known as oropharyngeal dysphagia), whereas dysphagia that occurs in the oesophagus (the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach) is known as oesophageal or ‘low' dysphagia.

Because sufferers of dysphagia cannot control the muscles used for swallowing, they are at risk of choking: the food accidentally goes down the windpipe — instead of the oesophagus. Dysphagia sufferers also increase the risk of small amounts of food or fluids entering their lungs, which is known as ‘aspiration’ and can lead to infection or even something called ‘aspiration pneumonia’ (when a coughing reflex is absent, this is referred to as ‘silent aspiration’). Those who suffer from dysphagia are also at risk of malnutrition, which when left untreated, can lead to further health complications and can even be life-threatening.
 

Dysphagia and food

To get the nutrients they need to survive, many dysphagia sufferers have to blend their food. However, many are embarrassed to eat blended food in front of their families as they don’t want to be seen eating what they describe as ‘baby food’. This can result in dysphagia sufferers feeling a loss of dignity which can lead to a sense of increased loneliness, isolation and even depression.  
 

Eating with dysphagia: texture-modified meals

When blended, most food tends to go either grey or brown in colour and becomes immediately less appealing, and those who suffer from dysphagia can feel less enthused and inclined to eat their meals as a result of this.

Seeing a need for high-quality meals for dysphagia sufferers, we developed a specialist range — our award-winning texture-modified meals.


Why our pureed meals are so special

  • Awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation
  • Give dignity back to the diner
  • Over 70 meals in the range
  • Meals are blended to meet BDA and National Descriptor Guidelines for dysphagia diets
  • Pre-blended and individual portions
  • Food looks appetising and tastes delicious
 

Angie’s story: “I was gobsmacked!”



Angie suffers from multiple sclerosis and dysphagia, which means she has difficulties swallowing naturally. To be able to eat confidently and safely, she needs her food and liquid thickened to a particular consistency.
For Angie and many others with dysphagia, eating becomes a laborious and worrying time. Food is kept simple and repeated across the week for convenience. Angie’s regular diet consisted of a variation of pre-made mash – or carrot mash – with tinned meat blended with a hand blender. Although some variety was possible, the short amount of time Angie’s carers had with her made choice rare.
 

How Angie rediscovered the joy of mealtimes

While at a support group, Angie had the chance to sample some apetito food and was immediately surprised by the excellent quality of dysphagia suitable food and its taste. Suitable food is often one colour that is the consistency of ‘baby food’, blended together without any aesthetic appeal. However, Angie was overwhelmed by the beautiful quality of food.

“I was gobsmacked! The carrots are carrots, they are orange and taste like carrots. To have [the option of] chicken curry and rice!” The biggest thing for Angie is to be able to eat foods that reduce the risk of choking, to take away the fear and dread that occurs around meal times. With apetito’s food, Angie can eat carefree, knowing that all the meals are made with fresh, natural ingredients, texturised in a way that is safe for those with dysphagia.

“With MS it progresses, so this is going to get worse. But at least I’ve found something that can help with my diet.”

You can see the joy and relief in Angie’s face as she talks about how this has helped – simply because she’s now enjoying a consistently high-quality of safe meals. And with the wide range of choice on offer, that means she can really start enjoying mealtimes again.


How apetito can help tackle dysphagia

We are dedicated to improving the lives and nutrition of those suffering with dysphagia. That's why we spend so much passion and time developing a delicious range of pureed meals that provide all the right nutrients — while also being visually appetising and convenient to prepare.  To find out more about our texture-modified meals, please contact us or order your meals online.