Practice Application Topics of Professional Interest| Volume 109, ISSUE 1, P21-25, January 2009

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Person-First Practice: Treating Patients with Disabilities

      In the increasingly competitive market for American health care dollars—particularly in the current climate of economic upheaval—it is essential that food and nutrition professionals ensure that their services are available, accessible, and appealing to every segment of the population. One such group of potential clients that you should be aware of is people with disabilities. According to the US Census Bureau, approximately one in five Americans has a disability (
      US Census Bureau
      Census brief: Disabilities affect one-fifth of all Americans.
      ). Therefore, food and nutrition professionals can reasonably expect a fair percentage of their patients to have a disability as well. In fact, since many of the conditions for which patients turn to registered dietitians (RDs) and dietetic technicians, registered (DTRs) for help, such as obesity or diabetes, can themselves result in disabilities, it is likely that more than one in five of your patients will have a disability. Not only do people with disabilities face the same risk of cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses as the general population—and therefore could benefit from the dietary advice of a nutrition expert—many people with disabilities “have problems managing their weight due to physical limitations which impose restriction on their movement … [and] are affected by the side effects of medications they take, particularly in terms of increased appetite and water retention” ( ). People with disabilities are also often more susceptible to opportunistic infection, pain, and other ailments, which may be complicated or exacerbated by obesity ( ). For these reasons, health care professionals are increasingly focusing on the role nutrition plays in prevention of complications associated with certain disabilities, so as a food and nutrition professional you must be prepared to meet the needs of this population by learning how to appropriately work with patients with disabilities, including preparation of the treatment environment, interaction with your client, and talking to and about a client with disabilities without using outdated or offensive terminology.
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        • US Census Bureau
        Census brief: Disabilities affect one-fifth of all Americans.
        (US Census Bureau Web site) (Accessed February 19, 2008)
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