The Safety Net

Mealtime Safety


As a clinical professional at a Regional Center, you may be in a position to support consumers who are in need of further assessment and evaluation of their meal time plans. Consumers who are identified as having swallowing risks may be referred to the Regional Center's clinical team. Ideally a speech, occupational or physical therapist or dietitian could supplement the team and provide special expertise. This doesn't mean they must all be present at meetings but the input of the professional therapists should be represented when doing annual planning for persons at risk. Staff working with those at risk for mealtime problems will need extra training and extra support to understand the reasons why mealtime plans must be followed to the letter. 

Dysphagia, which simply means, "difficulty swallowing" is frequently seen in persons with developmental disabilities. It is often the result of damage to the nervous system from cerebral palsy, brain injury, stroke, Parkinson's disease, muscular dystrophy or even injury or surgery involving the mouth or throat.

Swallowing problems can lead to :

  • Risk of aspiration and as a result risk for pneumonia, chronic lung disease and even death
  • Poor hydration and nutrition and all the health risks associated with these conditions, such as skin breakdown, disorientation, weakness and susceptibility to infections
  • Decreased enjoyment of the mealtime experience leading to isolation
With an understanding of swallowing and the implications it may have on the quality of life for consumers, there are several things you might do to increase the awareness of non-clinical case providers. 
  • Offer to train direct support staff regarding what to look for when a person eats and how to spot signs of increased risk.
  • Train staff to run mealtime plans correctly.
  • Train staff to position consumers correctly for maximum safety, especially at mealtime.
  • Participate in extra in-service and learn more about dysphagia.
  • The most effective training often happens on the spot, not in class. Whenever, wherever, you see a consumer having difficulty with food, get involved! 
  • As part of the IPP process, be the one who suggests further referrals for evaluation so that appropriate plans may be put in place.
Together we can decrease mealtime risks and make life a little more enjoyable for the consumer!

This article has been used by permission from the Ohio Department of mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. All information is believed to be accurate but not guaranteed. The state of Ohio disclaims and liability for errors or omissions. 


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