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"I jumped on board with IDDSI because I’ve always believed it would reduce errors in the food served to people."

John Holahan

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  • Writer's pictureJohn Holahan

What is Thick Water?

When I started SimplyThick back in 2001, it was hard to imagine that someday our work to make water thick would become a brief viral challenge. In 2021, of course, there was a TikTok thickened water challenge. It was a weird way for some acquaintances to figure out what we do at SimplyThick.

Of course, the problem with the TikTok challenge is that the "best" videos showcase the strongest negative reactions to a product that makes someone's life better every day.

To understand why thick water exists, you need to know what dysphagia is. Then, I will explain thick water and how it helps.

What is dysphagia?

Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing or swallowing problems. For people with dysphagia, this is not a once-in-awhile issue. Problems occur with most of their swallows every single day. Dysphagia can happen at any age and for many reasons. Almost half of all swallowing problems stem from neurologic conditions like Parkinson's Disease, strokes, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), brain tumors, head and neck cancers, or recent intubation of the trachea.

People with dysphagia experience problems when they swallow food or drink and often experience a choking sensation. Eating and drinking become a chore. People with dysphagia need to make sure they eat and drink enough to avoid dehydration and malnutrition. Some people with dysphagia have difficulties eating enough food to maintain weight and energy. Or they may have trouble drinking enough water or other fluids to stay hydrated.

Dysphagia is a serious medical condition with a variety of causes and treatments. Do not self-diagnose or self-treat. If you think you or a loved one has dysphagia, seek medical attention.

What is thick water, and how does it help?

Thick water is simply plain, ordinary water that is thickened to allow a person with dysphagia to swallow the water safely and properly. It is a simple way for some people with dysphagia to handle their liquids. Thickening helps by slowing the liquid in their mouth. They can better control the drink. They can swallow it without trouble.

The reason we prefer to thicken water and other liquids is that the alternatives to thickened beverages may be less desirable - feeding tubes, for example. With thick water (and any other liquids), the person is still eating and drinking with their mouth. Generally, the least invasive option - thick water - is preferred to the alternatives.

How thick is thick water?

Thick water comes in 4 thickness levels, according to the International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative (IDDSI). Each level represents a specific amount of thickness.

If someone needs a little thickness, Slightly Thick, Level 1 may be okay. Usually, this is just a little thicker water, like a syrup.

If someone needs a lot of thickness to manage their liquids, they may need Extremely Thick, Level 4. At this thickness level, the thick water is so thick that you are more likely to eat the water with a spoon than to sip it out of a cup. It is like a yogurt thickness.

IDDSI has a few simple, easy tests that ensure the thick water is precisely the thickness that works best for the specific person. Another benefit is that the IDDSI tests are accomplished relatively quickly and inexpensively at home. Watch how simple it is to conduct the IDDSI flow test designed to measure the thickness of the water.

Would you choose thick water for a loved one?

Due to a passing social media challenge, thick water may have come to many peoples' attention. Still, thick water does serve a crucial role in the lives of people with dysphagia. Swallowing problems can make swallowing water difficult. And in many cases, thick water makes it possible to continue drinking and consuming liquids without a more invasive alternative. Here at SimplyThick, our goal is simple, to improve the lives of those living with swallowing disorders.



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