As a caregiver or someone in a Veteran’s support system, you may notice your loved one having difficulty chewing or swallowing certain food items. Although there are suggestions your VA registered dietitian nutritionist will make, we often pair up with Speech Therapy for a comprehensive team approach.

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), often called speech therapists, have extensive knowledge of the anatomy, physiology and function of the swallow, making them literally the swallowing specialists! Veterans, family members or caregivers may notice their loved one’s difficulty chewing or swallowing food. This could potentially worsen over time to the point that may require some help from an SLP.

Veterans with neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, traumatic brain injury and dementia are more likely to have difficulty swallowing, or what we call Dysphagia.

Top 4 signs of dysphagia that Veterans and their caregivers should look for

  1. Drooling or pocketing of food in mouth after swallowing
  2. Sensation of food/medications “sticking” in throat or chest
  3. Pain with swallowing
  4. Wet/gurgle vocal quality after eating or drinking

Sometimes an adjustment to your diet is useful to help with dysphagia. It may be helpful to incorporate these swallowing tips and avoiding certain foods/drinks due to choking concerns. Implementing swallowing maintenance exercises are often beneficial, and the swallowing experts – SLPs – can help!

This team approach will help caregivers create safe swallow meal plans and work with the dietitian for continued modifications. The Healthy Teaching Kitchen YouTube page offers a wide variety of recipe ideas to try.

Listen in to Fresh Focus episode #31 where I interview Nicole Ziarnek, a speech therapist, who shares a wealth of knowledge making it easy to understand what exactly happens to food and drink once you start the eating or drinking process. It’s our hope that these helpful techniques will optimize food intake for your Veteran’s feeding difficulties.


Michele Martin MS, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Marion VA Healthcare System’s Community Living Center (CLC).

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