How can a dietitian help people with disability?

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Dietitians are health professionals who help to make sure you are eating the right foods in the right amounts to be the healthiest you can be.

Key Points

  • Dietitians are professionals who help to make sure you are eating the right foods in the right amounts to be the healthiest you can be
  • For people with disability, it can be even more important to get your diet right, as your body may process food differently from other people or you may need more support to prepare meals
  • Choosing a good dietitian is about not only finding someone who is registered but also who understands the importance of your situation at home to what you eat

People with certain disabilities can be at a higher risk of medical complications, and being healthy can be a very important part of reaching their goals. Dietitians can support people with disability to achieve those goals.

What do dietitians do?

Dietitians work with clients on dietary counselling and medical nutrition therapy, which can be delivered to individuals or groups of people.

This means they assess your nutritional needs, develop meal planning that considers medical conditions and personal circumstances, and provide information on healthy eating, shopping for food, eating out and preparing food at home.

A dietitian’s advice is tailored to the people they are delivering a service to – it takes into account your individual circumstances and medical history, goals and lifestyle.

Who might benefit from seeing a dietitian?

Every individual’s nutritional needs are different depending on age, ability to exercise, medical conditions and their body’s processing of food and liquids.

It can be difficult to know what to eat and how much of each type of food you need, which is where a dietitian can help.

This support is not just for adults with disability to make sure they are eating healthily while living independently, but can be for people in a range of different situations. A parent of a child with a disability may want to make sure their child is getting the right nutrients so that they can grow and develop to their full potential.

For some people with disabilities which affect their bodily functions – for example, the genetic disorder Prader-Willi syndrome which causes people to be constantly hungry – controlling their diet and health is likely to require expert help.

People with learning or intellectual disability may also need more support to understand how to make healthy food choices and why eating a balanced diet is important.

Working with a dietitian to be healthier physically can additionally help with improving mental health.

If one of your personal goals is to be fit or healthy, to learn how to cook your own meals or shop independently, to manage what you eat or drink, or even to minimise your risk of illness, then a dietitian can help you to work towards your goals.

Dieticians should also work with other professionals such as your occupational therapist, speech pathologist, allied health professionals and doctor where needed to help you achieve your goals.

Choosing a dietitian

The first important factor to understand is that there are both dietitians and nutritionists delivering services, but the two are not the same.

Dietitians have further qualifications in dietetics, so have more education than nutritionists.

Accredited Practising Dietitians (APDs) have a university-level qualification, undertake ongoing training to keep up with the latest scientific knowledge and are registered with Dietitians Australia.

APDs can be found through Dietitians Australia’s search function on their website.

Aside from the necessary qualifications, good dietitians should recognise it’s not just about healthy eating plans, but also about your individual situation and your family’s situation.

These professionals should discuss with you what your lifestyle is like, what you can do about food when you are out in the community, not just at home, and how your diet can be planned to be easy for you to stick to.

It’s no use having a diet plan which you aren’t able to actually implement because of other factors in your life.

APDs are also bound to a code of conduct about how they treat clients and should treat you with respect and consideration, listen to you, provide a safe and high-quality service based on the latest knowledge, include you in decisions and choices about your care and keep your information confidential.

Funding for a dietitian

To claim the services of a dietitian on Medicare or as a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participant, you must use an APD.

If you are claiming for a dietitian with your NDIS funding it will be under the improved daily living, health and wellbeing and disability-related health supports categories.

If you have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes or cancer, Medicare can provide a rebate for you to see an APD, which will be part of a care plan coordinated by your GP.

Your GP can also refer you to a group service for people with type 2 diabetes, which is eligible for a Medicare rebate.

Most private health funds also cover the cost of seeing an APD.

Have you benefitted from seeing a dietitian? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

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