Impact Case Study

Safer eating and drinking for people with complex disabilities

Simpler guidance has been created for carers to ensure safer eating and drinking for people with complex or severe learning disabilities. 

The problem

Difficulties with eating and drinking (dysphagia) are a significant problem for many people with learning disabilities, affecting health, quality of life and, in serious cases, can lead to death.

Carers need support to help service users with eating and drinking, in a way that is easy for them to incorporate into everyday practice.

What we did

Researchers Darren Chadwick, Sue Caton, and Juliet Goldbart examined care staff’s implementation of guidelines for eating and drinking developed by speech and language therapists.

What we discovered

The researchers found that concrete recommendations relating to food consistency for example, are easier for carers to follow than support-based strategies such as verbal prompting. 

Carers struggled to recall written guidelines. This suggested a need for them to re-familiarize themselves with management strategies and their rationales on a regular basis, following initial training.

The research also showed that an understanding of the cognitive and social origins of communication can help improve intervention approaches for children and adults with profound disabilities.

Why it matters

Several groups have incorporated the findings into their policies.

The UK National Patient Safety Agency use it in their guidance, which is designed to reduce the deaths resulting from eating and drinking difficulties in people with learning disabilities.

A Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists Special Interest Group on Dysphagia has been established to share the findings and promote best practice through meetings and seminars.

In addition, the research is cited in many policy documents including the Department for Education’s “Teaching materials for learners with severe, profound and complex learning difficulties”(2010) , RNIB’s “Effective Practice Guide: Becoming a Sensitive Communication partner”, Scope’s, “Supporting Communication through Alternative and Augmentative Communication” and the QCA’s “Planning, teaching and assessing the curriculum for pupils with learning difficulties”.

The research is used globally, having also been used to support concepts for the Australian “Triple C: Checklist of Communicative Competence”.

‘MMU’s Mencap research is central to our staff induction training. Staff are given a copy of the work and we recommend it to professionals from voluntary agencies.’

Chief Executive of PAMIS, Scotland

Featured Researcher

Professor Juliet Goldbart

Juliet is the Associate Dean for research in the Faculty of Health Psychology and Social Care

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Phone 0161 247 2578