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Getting help with swallowing

Swallowing Awareness Day is held in March to highlight the difficulties that some people face with swallowing. The problem is known as Dysphagia and can have a significant impact on health and quality of life. However, early intervention including support from a Speech Pathologist can help. Montrose Senior Speech Pathologist Janine Farmer explains more:

photo of Janine - Montrose Speech Pathologist

What is Dysphagia?

Eating and drinking is an everyday activity that many of us do not actively think about. However for some people, swallowing is not so easy and support from a Speech Pathologist can help.

Swallowing difficulties are known as “Dysphagia” and can include any problem with, swallowing, drinking, chewing, eating, sucking or controlling saliva. It can also include problems taking medication or with food or drink ‘going down the wrong way’.

Dysphagia in children

If not managed properly, swallowing problems can result in medical issues such as chest infections, choking, poor nutrition and dehydration. In babies and children, poor nutrition may impact on growth and brain development.

How to spot swallowing problems

Dysphagia can present with a number of symptoms. Here are some things to look out for.

  • Your baby has difficulty sucking during breast or bottle feeding
  • Long meal times or eating very slowly (taking more than 30 minutes to finish a meal)
  • Coughing, choking or frequent throat clearing during or after eating and drinking
  • A feeling that food or drink gets stuck in the throat or is going down the wrong way
  • Becoming short of breath or tiring quickly when eating and drinking
  • Avoiding certain foods because they are difficult to swallow
  • Unexplained weight loss or failing to put on weight because of avoiding foods or finding it hard to eat or chew food
  • Frequent chest infections with no known cause
young girl sitting tryin stawberry and apple

Who is affected by Dysphagia?

Anyone can be impacted by difficulties with swallowing. In particular, Dysphagia affects:

  • 95% of those with Motor Neurone Disease
  • 65% of people who have had a stroke
  • 15% of people with a learning disability
  • 90% of people with Cerebral Palsy
  • 50% of people with Down Syndrome
  • Half of paediatric Neuromuscular disorders

What can be done about swallowing difficulties?

Early identification is very important. If you notice any of the signs or symptoms in this article, speak to your doctor and/or your Montrose therapist. Even if you are not currently seeing a Speech Pathologist, we may be able to add Speech Therapy to your service.

Speech Pathologists may recommend changes to the textures of foods or drinks, and provide rehabilitation techniques and exercises to help people swallow safely. Support may be available through the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

What can be done at home to help with swallowing?

Swallowing difficulties can lead to stressful mealtimes! Here’s a few tips to help but don’t forget you can discuss with your Montrose Speech Pathologist to get more advice.

Don’t rush: We can all be guilty of rushing at mealtimes but a rushed meal for someone with dysphagia can cause real difficulties. A simple step for carers is to slow down and focus on the social aspect of eating. A calm, regular routine at mealtimes can help a lot.

Manage consistency: People with dysphagia may have specific needs in terms of texture and thickened fluids. It’s important to follow any diet or modifications suggested by your Speech Pathologist. This might be soft foods, pureed or minced meals.

Who else can help with Dysphagia?

Speech Pathologists work with other health professionals such as doctors, nurses, dietitians, lactation consultants, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, pharmacists and others to help people with swallowing problems.

We have difficulties at mealtimes but it is not Dysphagia

Many of the issues listed above are not necessarily caused by Dysphagia. Discussions with your GP can help identify causes and solutions. Montrose therapists can also help with sensory issues, behavioural difficulties at mealtimes and children who may be seen as “fussy eaters”. Montrose has a number of different therapeutic approaches that can be tailored to your child or an adult you are caring for.

Summary

Not only do we need to eat and drink to live, but eating and drinking should be an enjoyable experience and can be important family time. Many of our day-to-day social activities revolve around eating and drinking  (e.g. restaurants and picnics).

For people with Dysphagia, eating and drinking can be uncomfortable, stressful and very frustrating. They may avoid eating and drinking in front of friends and family  due to embarrassment. These problems can lead to anxiety, depression and social isolation.

The first step is to seek help as there are many strategies that can make a real difference at mealtimes.

Speech Pathology is available at the following Montrose Centres:

 

Information collated from various sources including Speech Pathology Australia

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