The saying goes “you are what you eat,” and never is that more apparent when dietary restrictions are involved.
After a brain injury, medications and treatments are commonplace, and both have potential to interfere with a healthy balanced diet. That’s when Special Tree clients have Registered Dietitians Jill Prisza and Brahmlin Sethi to turn to for the best way to maintain a healthy diet. But being a dietitian is much more than simply prescribing meal plans.
“It’s basically about educating staff and clients, working with weight loss or gain and basically anything that has to do with a diet,” said Sethi. “We’ll visit houses to learn where people need help. Sometimes there is a little resistance, because people think we’re going to put them on a diet, but it’s more about portion, moderation, hydration and how all of that interacts with medication. We try to teach people to listen to their bodies, because they’ll tell you when you’re hungry or full.”
Sethi regularly visits 18 community residences every year to put together quarterly assessments on where clients need help with their intake. While Sethi deals primarily with outpatient and clients who are in assisted living, Prisza concentrates more on the clinical side of the nutrition. In cases where clients are not conscious, nutrition can take on a whole different meaning.
“Probably around 75% of our patients are tube-fed, so my role at the Neuro Care Campus is very different, and it’s never typical,” she said. “When someone is tube fed, we can provide 100% of their nutritional needs. It’s actually easier to control someone’s diet through a tube, but it can be challenging to use information about their current condition, the injury, and past medical history to find the appropriate formula. Then, when the time comes to wean them off, we have to monitor their condition constantly to make sure their weight is good and that their diet is not interfering with their medications.”
On top of the normal intake restrictions, Prisza said some people are intolerant of tube feeding, which introduces a whole new aspect of patient care. But she agreed wholeheartedly with Sethi that her primary role is as an educator.
“Here at Special Tree, Brahmlin and I educate people on nutrition,” she said. “A lot of people want information on their diet and health, and we provide that. We help the interdisciplinary staff understand what needs to be done and we provide education to families as well. It can be challenging because most don’t see the seriousness of what they can do to their bodies just from intake.”
Prisza has been a nutritionist for nearly 17 years. Her interest in the science began in high school when she found Jane Brody’s nutrition book. She attended Madonna in Livonia and has been a nutritionist in health care and school systems ever since.
Sethi attended University of Michigan after moving from India, to Iran to Canada and finally Ann Arbor. She majored in biochemistry but decided she enjoyed working with people and focused more on health. Her one year anniversary at Special Tree will be this summer.