Health students design cookbook to make food easier to swallow

A cookbook full of recipes designed specifically for people who have difficulty swallowing is now just a click of the mouse button away.

Beyond the Blender: Dysphagia Made Easy is the brainchild of speech pathologist and Griffith researcher Simone Howells, and has been created by Master of Speech Pathology students at the School of Allied Health Sciences. It is available as a free download here

Simone Howells.

“When I graduated as a speech pathologist I was working with patients with dysphagia in hospitals,” Simone Howells said. “That’s a very controlled environment. What’s brought up from the kitchen is exactly what the patient with dysphagia eats.”

However, when her work took her into the wider community and people’s homes, Simone realised that environment was unlike the clinical setting. “They can walk up to the fridge and grab just about whatever they want. The temptation is there to essentially eat or drink something that may not go down the right way which can be catastrophic for the patient with dysphagia.”

Dysphagia is known to affect up to one in three people in the community. It is most common among people aged over 65 and can be caused by neurological conditions like stroke and Parkinson’s disease and if left untreated it can be fatal.

“The symptoms can be as simple as taking longer at mealtimes and needing more time to chew and to swallow. But dysphagia can also cause pain and discomfort, the feeling of something stuck in the throat. It can cause coughing, throat clearing or sneezing during eating and drinking, so it can manifest in any number of different ways.”

Simone’s research at Griffith Health aims to build a greater understanding of the difficulties experienced by adults with dysphagia who live at home, and identify new ways that speech pathology services can support them. Along with physical and clinical factors, her work also recognises psychosocial issues connected to the condition.

“Social lives are impacted. A person with dysphagia can’t go to a normal café and order off a normal menu. It is also difficult for them to manage it at work, preparing drinks that need to be thickened, bringing special lunches that might need to be pureed or mashed up.

“People with dysphagia are much more likely to experience social anxiety and depression. It is also known to impact their relationships and how they function in society. Often they disengage from their regular activities.”

Beyond the Blender is a creative approach to supporting people with dysphagia and the families and friends who share their lives. It represents a platform to make informed choices that don’t compromise on flavour, appearance or social acceptability. Within the cookbook are three different categories which are compliant with the Australian standards for texture modified foods — soft, mince moist, and pureed.

“When I looked for places where people with dysphagia might look for appropriate recipes I found there was very little out there. Now our students have developed a series of very tasty recipes that have been audited for texture compliance,” Simone said. Friday’s launch will include a morning tea created from recipes in the cookbook.