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Last month, we talked about Physical Supports and the concept of supporting a person 24/7 to achieve better health. In this month’s article, we’ll touch on Nutritional Supports. I credit HRS founder, Karen Green McGowan, RN, with enhancing my knowledge about this important way of support.

Few people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are born with bony deformities. This is more often a function of failing to initiate the battle with gravity that begins with spinal shaping from a belly-down position. If, instead of moving the head and spine against the opposing force of gravity that normally changes the spine from a big C into an S curve, the person remains on their backside with little active movement, the body will take a new shape that reflects the primary pattern of movement. The head and spine will often flatten and reshape into scoliosis, kyphosis and a flattened chest. These deformities can interfere with normal bodily functioning including the ability to safely swallow.

Nutritional Supports are basically supporting a person in safely achieving good nutrition.

Consider someone that eats with her head rolled back and to the left. This position prevents an adequate closure of the flap that protects the windpipe. Bits of food can just fall right on into the airway. She develops aspiration pneumonia which leads to fibrosis in her lungs. Even if the poor eating posture is thereafter corrected, the fibrosis will predispose her to further pneumonias.

The key lesson here is prevention. Nutritional Supports are basically supporting a person in safely achieving good nutrition. Below are a few general tenants of good nutritional support.

Basics of proper alignment for eating:

  • Align the person starting with the proximal joints and work your way out to the arms and legs.
  • The trunk should between 45 and 105 degrees with 90 degrees the theoretical optimum.
  • We can eat in other positions besides sitting, such as prone on forearms or side lying. These positions are usually reserved for people who have deformities such that sitting is not a good position for them.
  • Keep the trunk as straight as possible with the nose, navel and knees pointing in the same direction.
  • The head should be pointing forward with the nose in midline. The head should not be tilted forward or back as that interferes with the function of the epiglottis in covering the airway. The most dangerous of these is tilted back as it opens the airway right up. It is very dangerous to eat this way.
  • The person may need to have their head supported in neutral and a little help to pull the jaw forward.

The above is general information and should not be implemented for any particular person without consulting with their healthcare professional. Always refer to a person’s Physical and Nutritional Support Plan for individual guidance of positioning and proper techniques for safe eating.

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