Helping Patients With Eating Difficulties

Helping patients with eating difficulties

If you plan on pursuing a career in nursing, you will most likely come across patients who have difficulty eating or have unhealthy eating habits. Proper nutrition is an important factor in not only the recovery process, but in maintaining optimal health at any stage in life. Patients tend to feel better, have more strength, maintain healthy bodyweight and have less of a risk of infection when they receive adequate nutrition. For nurses who work in elderly or palliative care departments, however, it can be a challenge to just get their patients to take a sip of water on some days. Here is what nurses and health care professionals should know when encouraging healthy eating habits:

Understand your patient's eating difficulty
There are many disorders and diseases that patients have that might affect their ability to eat or chew. Dysphagia is a disorder that affects the swallowing reflex and a patient's ability to seal their lips and control their tongue. Difficulty controlling jaw movement is also a symptom of dysphagia and can lead to disruptions in multiple phases of swallowing. Mouth pain is another challenge many patients experience that affects their ability to ingest food. The causes of mouth pain vary from dental disease and poorly fitting dentures to mouth ulcers and oral infections.

Mental disorders can also have a negative effect on eating habits. Patients in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia might experience a decrease in their senses of taste or smell. In order to slow the progression of the mental disorders, some doctors prescribe certain medicines. Unfortunately some side effects affect appetite and cause constipation, further affecting a patient's will to eat.

Minimize pain and discomfort
Nurses working with patients who have eating difficulties can take a number of steps to make the experience of eating as painless as possible. Regular and thorough dental care can dramatically affect a patient's ability to eat. Proper treatment of mouth ulcers and thrush, a type of oral infection, should be applied as prescribed by the physician. Tooth and mouth pain should be immediately investigated. Patients with mental disorders like dementia or Alzheimer's should be given adequate time to finish their meals. Consider setting up mealtime in a way that is an opportunity for Alzheimer's patients to make choices, reinforce their identity and affirm past accomplishments.

This article is sponsored by Western Governors University, a nonprofit, accredited, online university. WGU offers online RN to BSN, BSN to MSN, and RN to MSN degree programs to working nurses who already have a current RN license. To find out more, please visit

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