Written by Sherry Neal, RN-BC, CDDN
Nutritional supports take a very broad look at the process of eating and digestion. Many people that are receiving services require some assistance with the intake of food. They may need their food specially prepared or need assistance with eating. Safety is the biggest concern as persons become more dependent on others for eating.
Mealtimes and eating may become unpleasant for a person. This may be due to pain or discomfort, swallowing difficulties or even that they have had to have a feeding tube placed and can no longer enjoy the taste of food. Whatever is causing that person to find meals disagreeable should be investigated and the cause eliminated if possible. Drill down to find out if the problem is related to the intake of food, the processing or absorption of the food or even the excretion of waste.
“Safety is the biggest concern as persons become more dependent on others for eating.”
When we look at the intake of food, we are focusing on getting the food safely in the mouth, down the throat and esophagus and into the stomach. There are many things that can go wrong here because of the high level of muscle and nervous system coordination that is required to get the food from plate to the stomach. Difficulty swallowing and aspiration is one of the big concerns.
If the person does not have good lip closure, strong tongue control or adequate nerve supply to the throat, choking and aspiration are a real threat to the person’s life and overall health. If the muscle at the top of the stomach doesn’t close well, reflux becomes an issue. When the person has significant heartburn and stomach pain, they don’t feel very much like eating.
Processing of food and absorption of nutrients can be problematic as well. It takes 4 to 6 hours for food to completely be digested enough to leave the stomach. High fat meals require the longest time. Often positioning a person on their right side with their trunk and head elevated at least 30 degrees helps the stomach to empty. This also may help to reduce the frequency of reflux by helping the stomach to drain rather than push food back up into the esophagus.
The formation and elimination of bowel movements certainly causes difficulties for people that we serve. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of things that can cause difficulties at mealtimes. The important thing to be aware of is, does the person have a problem with intake, processing, absorption or elimination? Once the problem is identified always take action to see what you can do to resolve the problem to make eating and mealtimes more pleasurable.
We have discussed the problems with constipation and bowel obstructions in the past. I’m sure we will produce more articles on these topics in the future because it is such a prevalent issue. If you would like to read any of those historical articles, go to hrstonline.com and click “Article Library” at the bottom right of the page.