As a busy mum I wear many hats, one of these is as a support worker for people who are in the twilight of their life. I have been doing this for many years, on and off, since I was 14 years old. The people I care for are not always elderly sometimes they are quite young, with complex problems alongside a terminal illness.
One of the things that often happens as people grow old, develop dementia, or become very ill, is dysphagia. Dysphagia simply means swallowing difficulties.
Not so long ago I was working in our local hospital with a young man with a complex set of needs, underpinned by an illness called Batten’s disease. He was only 24, required a special soft diet (known as a dysphagic diet in our hospital) and assistance with eating.
The food that was presented shocked me. Served on a plastic tray, covered in plastic, the food did not resemble at all the descriptions that it came with. Fortunately it did all come separate, unlike the bad old days when all the purees were mixed together and served in one lump on a plate.
The choices were limited. Each day there were 5 choices, which sounds generous, until you realise that this is the menu, every day is exactly the same. Now this isn’t so bad if you are admitted for 4 days, you can have a decent amount of choice. If you are in hospital for 4 weeks or 4 months, as was the case for this gentleman it becomes an issue, especially if there is something you really dislike, such as fish.
When a person is in hospital for a long time, what they eat can take on a great importance. Let’s think for a moment about food memory. 5 years ago I went on an amazing holiday, backpacking around Sicily. When I feel nostalgic or low I can eat a plate of spaghetti vongole followed by a bowl of lemon gelato, and if I happen to be say in rainy Manchester, I can be transported back to the beach cafe in Letojanni in an instant.
For someone with dementia, or other condition (and Batten’s has elements similar to dementia) food can help reconnect the neurological pathways, recalling memories, and bringing clarity, maybe only for minutes or hours, but those are so precious. Meals, for a long term hospital patient, break the day, and give an individual something to look forward to and moments to cherish.
Why then, do hospitals and other large institutions fail in this at times? In the UK we have a National Health Service, and hospitals are very budget conscious. Food is often prepared off site. It greatly concerns me that the nutritional, social and psychological needs of these patients are being missed.
I want to know, what are the meals like in your hospital? Have you had a great experience with a friend or family member in hospital in regards to meal times? What changes do you then need to be made?
Hi this is Jane chipping in here. I have spent a lot of time in hospital and the only time the food was great was prior to the birth of my son. This was between open heart surgeries 2 and 3. I was placed on a special diet, salt free and fat free. My meals were individually prepared and arrived fresh and hot. They were delicious and I was the envy of other patients.
The worst I recall was post open heart op number 3. They bought me on a white plate, mashed potato, cauliflower with white sauce and bleached white pork fillet. A visitor commented I ought not to eat it as I had had a pig’s valve put in my heart and might the pork on the plate be a relative. Blah.
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