A mealtime screening tool was administered to 349 residents of a home for the aged to determine the prevalence of mealtime difficulties including, but not limited to, dysphagia. Mealtime difficulties, as assessed during a single meal observation of each resident, were documented in 87% of these individuals. Though 68% exhibited signs of dysphagia, 46% had poor oral intake, 35% had positioning problems, and 40% exhibited challenging behaviors. An increased prevalence of mealtime difficulties was related to both the presence and degree of cognitive impairment. Oral intake was best among residents with severe cognitive impairment, many of whom received partial to total feeding assistance. In contrast, poor oral intake was associated with mild-moderate cognitive impairment, pointing to a need for more aggressive intervention with this group. The results clearly demonstrate that the prevalence of a wide range of eating-related problems far exceeds accepted estimates of dysphagia alone and support a multidisciplinary approach to mealtime interventions for the institutionalized elderly. Additionally, the magnitude of problems identified has implications for both resource and staff-training requirements in long-term care facilities.
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