NYU Steinhardt students in the Communicative Sciences and Disorders (CSD) department are working together – and virtually – to help people with swallowing disorders (or dysphagia) safely consume drinks from national restaurants chains.
Sonja Molfenter, PhD CCC-SLP, associate professor in CSD and co-director of the Center of Health and Rehabilitation Research (CoHRR), initiated the project during the pandemic as a way to keep students engaged in hands-on research.
“Because everything was suspended, I felt for my students that they couldn’t have a research experience,” says Molfenter, whose research specializes in understanding the physiological features of both normal swallowing and disordered swallowing. “I started brainstorming what we could work on collaboratively from wherever we were, and this idea around the IDDSI classifications seemed like a great option.”
IDDSI – or the International Dysphagia Diet Standardization Initiative – seeks to create a universal, international way in which to describe texture modified foods and thickened liquids. This standardization is critical for the safety of patients who could be at risk for aspirating an unsuitably thick or thin food or liquid.
“IDDSI’s global nomenclature is important because it ensures consistency between what speech pathologists prescribe for patients and what foods dieticians can suggest for their health and hydration,” says Molfenter.
Last month a selection of the students presented the groups’ findings at the NYU Steinhardt CoHRR Spring Research showcase. Molfenter has also submitted the students’ work to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) in the hopes of securing a conference presentation – an important resume-builder for students. They also hope to get this kind of data in front of patients and caregivers to increase quality of life – especially timely as June is Dysphagia Awareness Month.
“With this work, we wanted to do the legwork that allows patients and caregivers the opportunity to safely be more creative with what they eat and drink,” says Molfenter. “The IDDSI classifications are a gamechanger for people with dysphagia, and we’d love to see this system gain more traction.”