Exploring the connection between dementia and eating, drinking and swallowing difficulty: Findings from home‐based semi‐structured interviews

Michelle O'Neill, Orla Duffy, Mo Henderson, Ashleigh Davis, W George Kernohan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
48 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Background: Eating, drinking and swallowing (EDS) difficulties are important to identify early. Awareness of EDS changes starts with those living with dementia or their family carers. However, little is known about early identification from the perspective of people with dementia. Aim: The aim of this study was to understand the experience of EDS by people living with dementia in their own home. Methods: Published evidence pertaining to EDS difficulties in dementia was used to inform an online semi‐structured interview guide. Four people living with dementia and a third‐sector Empowerment Lead were invited to become co‐researchers. People living with dementia and their carers were invited to be interviewed. We enquired about their past and present experiences, and future expected changes in EDS, information needs, opinions on early problem identification, and lifestyle modifications following onset of EDS difficulty. Narrative concepts of heroes and villains in their ‘stories’ were identified. Responses were subjected to framework analysis informed by narrative enquiry. Results: Seven people living with dementia and five family carers were interviewed. The overarching theme was a ‘missed connection’ between EDS difficulty and dementia. Where EDS difficulties were identified, ‘compensatory changes’ and a need for ‘access to information’ were noted. Conclusions: The connection between potential EDS difficulties and a dementia diagnosis may not be made, even though EDS changes were recognised by people living with dementia and their family carers. This may be explained by behaviours that mask problems or allow individuals to cope or compensate. Reduced awareness may also be due to inadequate access to information and lack of specialist services. If the connection between dementia and EDS difficulty is missed it could further delay access to support services. WHAT THIS PAPER ADDS: What is already known on the subject: The prevalence of dementia is increasing and is expected to affect 9% of the population by 2040. EDS difficulties are common in people living with dementia and predispose to poorer outcomes. Better awareness of EDS changes early in the disease process of dementia or at preclinical stages can identify individuals at risk and allow for intervention prior to advanced EDS difficulties developing. What this paper adds to existing knowledge: This paper reports the perspective of people living with dementia and family carers and provides insights into experiences of EDS and the challenges faced and identifies commonalities. The connection between potential EDS difficulties and dementia is missed despite various changes reported by both people living with dementia and their family carers, who tend to make compensatory lifestyle changes without support. What are the potential or actual clinical implications of this work?: Lack of awareness of the connection between potential EDS difficulties and dementia may arise due to inadequate access to information to support people living with dementia and their family carers. Access to such information is needed and the quality assurance of information from reputable sources is important to people living with dementia. There is a need for greater service user awareness of signs of EDS difficulty and how to access specialist services.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1738-1751
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Language & Communication Disorders
Volume58
Issue number5
Early online date23 May 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished online - 23 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding information:
Department of the Economy, Grant/Award Number:10.13039/100016337; Department for the Economy

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

Keywords

  • eating
  • drinking
  • dementia
  • swallowing
  • semi‐structured interviews
  • semi-structured interviews

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