Do dietitians have a role in the disability setting?

A Dietitian/Clinical Nutritionist is uniquely qualified to translate scientific information about food and nutrition into practical dietary advice. Dietitians are responsible for the nutritional management of individuals who are referred to their care. It is well recognised that people with disabilities are at risk of nutritional problems and therefore it is very important that there is access to dietetic services for this group. In children with Cerebral Palsy, feeding difficulties have been found to affect 60 to 90 percent of children. Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) exhibit selective eating and have self-limiting diets that are unbalanced and problematic. Equally, children with conditions such as Down’s Syndrome, Spina Bifida, and Muscular Dystrophy experience a range of nutritional difficulties including undernutrition, Eating, Drinking, and Swallowing (EDS) disorders, constipation, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, bone problems, overweight/obesity, among others. A significant number of those presenting with EDS difficulties go on to require tube feeding. Close communication with the multidisciplinary team is essential for the effective management of nutritional problems in this group. As problems are multi-faceted and have knock-on effects on other therapies, the team should include Speech and Language Therapy, Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, and Psychology. Overweight/obesity is a serious issue, in particular for children with physical disabilities. This can have an impact on other therapies and the ability to mobilize for physiotherapy. Timely nutritional intervention can reduce the risk of overweight and obesity amongst this group, or can at least prevent further weight increases. At present, dietetic services for people with disabilities are very limited in most countries. Where dietetic services are available, the Dietitian plays a very important part in the management of nutritional concerns among people with disabilities. The Dietitian is an important member of the multidisciplinary team as nutrition impacts hugely on many aspects of care and well-being.

Source: Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute