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Dysphagia & nutrition thickeners

Swallowing involves a complex process of muscles and nerves working together. When people have difficulties swallowing, it’s called dysphagia. Difficulty swallowing can lead to other medical complications, such as upper respiratory infections, dehydration and malnutrition.

Dysphagia can be the result of a number of different medical disorders or conditions, including multiple sclerosis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and others. Another cause of dysphagia, however, can be age – both younger and older populations, in particular. In those over the age of 60, medical experts estimate that 14% of individuals are affected by dysphagia.

Treatment options for dysphagia may include specific exercises to strengthen the muscles involved with swallowing, position training to aid in swallowing and liquid nutrition that is formulated to make it easier to swallow. Thickeners have become the most common way to manage hydration and digestion needs in those with dysphagia.

Thickeners can be added to liquid nutrition to achieve the right consistency to help the person to be able to swallow safely. Drinks like water, milk and other fluids are more difficult to swallow because the thin liquid doesn’t hold together, meaning it can pass through the mouth and into the lungs (aspirated) more easily in people who have difficulty swallowing.

 

Types of thickness

There are four types of thickeners that can be either stirred or blended into liquid nutrition formulas. These thicknesses can be determined by a “fork” test, or how easily the liquid stays on a fork.

Regular

The thin liquid passes through the prongs of a fork easily, leaving little residue.

 

Mildly thick (nectar thickness)

Consistency of a thick smoothie that would be difficult to drink with a straw; the liquid would coat the fork.

 

Moderately thick (honey thickness)

Like honey, the thickened liquid sticks to the fork and would be difficult to swallow but could be ingested using a spoon.

 

Extremely thick (full thick or pudding thickness)

The thickened liquid remains on the fork in a clump. You could not drink this using a straw and you would need a spoon to consume the nutrients.

 

Related articles:
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How does a feeding tube work?
Commonly asked questions about nutrition & enteral feeding
 
SOURCES
patienteducation.osumc.edu/Documents/thickened-liquids.pdf
www.asha.org/research/reports/dysphagia/
www.swallowingdisorderfoundation.com/about/swallowing-disorder-basics/
www.health.qld.gov.au/nutrition/resources/txt_mod_tf.pdf
www.asha.org/Publications/leader/2008/081014/f081014a4/