THE thought of eating pureed food every mealtime would be enough to put some people off their food — but for many neurological patients, it is a fact of life.
A group of speech therapists at the Royal Bolton Hospital are determined to understand what it is like for their patients living on such a diet, so for five days, the team — who also work in the community — decided to swap their knives and forks for spoons and food for only liquified food.
Rachel Hemingway, who has helped organise the fundraiser, said: “As speech therapists, we work with patients who might be recovering from a stroke or living with a long-term condition like dementia, Parkinsons or MS.
“It can be very difficult for them to swallow, so quite often they will be on a diet of pureed food and thickened fluid — sometimes for a short time or indefinitely.
“We thought it would help us to understand what it is like to be on a puree diet by doing it ourselves.”
The team has also been collecting sponsorship for the challenge to boost funds for swallowing assessment equipment and communication resources at the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust.
As part of their diet, some members of the team ate ready-made pureed meals and some created their own tasty blends at home.
All of their drinks had to be thickened to a paste-consistency using Xanthan-gum. This includes tea, coffee, and even wine — as it can be dangerous for patients who have difficulty swallowing to have normal fluids.
Even though some of the team found their new diet filling, they all admitted staying hydrated and substituting snacks was a problem.
Ms Hemingway added: “We’ve all found it really tough to stay hydrated because of the thickening gum, which patients recovering from illnesses such as throat cancer or strokes have to have.
“This is because their vocal chords and other parts of the throat are not functioning properly, which means when they have a normal drink it slips straight down into their lungs. This can cause infection or pneumonia.
“We’ve all had headaches from caffeine withdrawal because tea and coffee just isn’t the same when it’s thickened. We’ve found that refreshing cold drinks are best or smoothies.
“It’s made me realise how much it must affect a patient’s mood because it actually makes you feel quite low when all you can have has to be pureed or you’re not getting enough water.
“In terms of savoury meals, soups and stews tend to work the best. Whereas pasta and rice is a little more tricky. I’ve found it’s best to add as much flavour as possible with things like garlic and parmesan.”
Tucking into a chicken casserole meal by Wiltshire Farm Food, Catherine Cropper said: “Snacking has been the toughest thing for me because you can’t really replace it as a puree.
“Smoothies or my daughter’s baby food have been quite good but it’s just not the same as my normal snacks.
“Also you realise how restrictive it must be because you can’t just buy pureed dinners when you’re out or at a restaurant. You have to plan everything.”
Carmel McNanee, also a speech therapist, added: “I’ve just had a sweet potato and chorizo soup, which was actually really nice. Again, it’s the snacking I miss. Especially between about 4pm and 7pm when I’m normally grazing.
“What I’ve realised is how difficult it must be for patients who are ill and who might not feel up to preparing all their own food.
“There’s stuff all over my kitchen when I’ve been making something, so it’s the clearing up too that’s a pain.”
The group completes its challenge today. To sponsor them, go to virginmoneygiving.com/ASLTteam.