The role of a rehabilitation dietitian

Yvonne Mitchell the importance of nutrition in recovery from illness

When people think of rehabilitation, they often picture physiotherapists, occupational therapists, or speech and language therapists.

But dietitians also have a role to play in helping people recover from illness, or have the best quality of life while living with a condition.

As a specialist rehabilitation dietitian at Mount Gould Hospital in Plymouth, I work with patients who require general rehab – such as those recovering from surgery – as well as mental health patients, and those needing neuro (brain) rehab or stroke rehab.

The majority of my patients here are having rehab after a stay in an acute hospital, and their nutritional needs vary greatly. Some are referred for malnutrition, while others might have altered taste, texture requirements, or perhaps an inability to swallow – resulting in alternative feeding such as a naso gastric tube or a PEG (tube into their stomach).

I also work closely with speech and language therapists regarding the texture of modified diets and patients’ ability to swallow, as this can often change and improve throughout their rehab.

Rehab is more than recovery too, it’s about prevention; giving advice to patients to ensure that they don’t have to come back into hospital. For example, I might give preventative advice to patients who are newly diagnosed with diabetes, or to existing diabetes patients with poor control.

Weight loss advice is key in situations such as aiding mobility and preventing secondary health problems too, and promoting healthy eating can enable and empower the patient to make healthier choices once out of hospital.

I also think it’s important to liaise with community teams for continuity of dietetic care once the patient has been discharged from the rehab setting. People need to continue their routine, otherwise they could end up needing acute care again.

I feel this job needs flexible thinking, as I ensure advice and nutrition care plans are person-centred, disease specific and contain evidence-based advice.

It is rewarding to know that I am part of the patient’s journey in helping them to leave hospital, so they can continue rehab at home, or transfer to a slow stream rehab unit or residential home.

Nutrition in a rehab setting is so important in improving patients’ level of function, as it aids their ability to perform better in physio or occupational therapy, therefore enabling a more effective rehab and making discharge much more likely.

Good nutrition helps to improve physical and mental functioning – and, most importantly, it can improve quality of life.