Thanks to West Cork’s award-winning firm Dining witih Dignity, people with swallowing difficulties can finally experience their favourite foods once again
SKIBBEREEN Residential Care Centre has the distinction of being the first centre in the country to have fully modified its menus for people with swallowing difficulties.
The significance of the accreditation has not been lost on some of the residents whose only alternative might have been to have their daily sustenance pureed. It was not lost on Lord David Puttnam, either, who accepted the accreditation plaque – the first of its kind in the country – on behalf of the 49 residents of Skibbereen Residential Care Centre.
Niamh Condon, who established her company Dining with Dignity in 2019, was enlisted to help the residential centre to improve all aspects of the dining experience.
‘It was my job to encourage and help the chefs to create food that was visually more presentable to people with swallowing difficulties,’ she said.
‘The significance was to blend food individually rather than blend everything together because that’s what gives it true flavour. It also makes the meals more digestible, and certainly more enjoyable, for the resident who may be experiencing swallowing difficulties.’
The name given to such a condition is called ‘dysphagia’, It is categorised by having a difficulty in chewing and moistening food in the mouth, or in moving food from the mouth to the stomach.
Niamh, who is from Newcestown, and previously worked at the Fairfield Nursing Home in Drimoleague, formed Dining with Dignity, after five years of direct experience dealing with dietary issues.
‘It was a huge honour for Skibbereen to be the first nursing home in Ireland to achieve this,’ said Niamh, who has been listed as a leading healthcare provider with LHP Skillnet.
As a leading healthcare provider, she is now in a position to offer similar assistance to other residential centres and nursing homes throughout the country.
During his visit, Lord Puttnam spoke to residents and praised the staff for doing such a fantastic job.
He said not everyone could do the work they do and he thanked them for their unceasing efforts, particularly in such difficult times.
‘I was extremely proud – and a bit emotional – that the organisation was so willing to make this change and to give their residents the experience of once again finding pleasure in food,’ Niamh told The Southern Star.
While Dining with Dignity might be having a difficult first year, the service it provides is now more essential than ever.
Niamh continues to develop recipes and methods to suit dysphagia diets.
Aside from the nutritional considerations, she said, ‘food has always been regarded as a celebration, so it is good to be able to blend something as popular as a scone and to reintroduce that as a treat with a nice cup of tea.’
It was the Skibbereen Residential Care Centre that first approached ‘Dining with Dignity’ in March of this year in a bid to improve the dining experience for all of their residents.
Jessily John Panicker, the director of nursing, and Wendy Robinson, the centre’s operations manager, met with Niamh to see if the training package could be implemented in the nursing home.
As part of the accreditation process, a three-day intensive workshop with all of the centre’s caregivers – which involved going through the different textures of food and focusing on new dysphagia guidelines – took place.
The final assessment was carried out in November and the residential centre passed with flying colours.
Now, there are things on the menu – such as meringues for people who weren’t able to have a meringue for years because of the texture of it – that are bringing real pleasure to people.
More importantly, the food is now presented in shapes that are identifiable, specifically for those who are on a diet that is totally pureed.
If the aim was to bring joy back to the residents, Dining with Dignity has certainly achieved that, and much more.