National 360 has a dedicated team of speech pathologists and a specialist clinician who can support you with eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties which can also be referred to as dysphagia.
What is dysphagia?
Dysphagia is the term used for problems associated with eating, drinking, or swallowing. Like breathing, swallowing is a reflex, essential to everyday life. Humans swallow between 500-700 times a day, around three times an hour during sleep, once per minute while awake, and even more during meals!
Swallowing is a very complex mechanism and involves the coordination of 50 pairs of muscles! (Speech Pathology Australia, 2021). People with dysphagia may find chewing, drinking, sucking, and managing saliva challenging. This can result in uncomfortable and stressful mealtimes and can sometimes be dangerous. If swallowing goes wrong, it can cause serious complications such as dehydration, malnutrition, chest infections (aspiration pneumonia) and choking.
Eating, drinking, or swallowing difficulties may be caused by the following conditions:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Progressive neurological conditions, such as Dementia, Parkinson’s disease, MND, Multiple Sclerosis
- Brain tumours
- Head and neck cancer
- Respiratory diseases
- Cerebral palsy
- Learning difficulties
The good news is that our speech pathology team at National 360 can help you!
The role of the speech pathologist in dysphagia
Speech pathologists at National 360 can help to support and identify ways of eating and drinking than can help to ensure that mealtimes are safe and enjoyable. As eating and drinking involves many body parts, speech pathologists work as part of a multidisciplinary team to support people with dysphagia. This may include working with general practitioners, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, dietitians, and nurses.
Speech pathologists can tailor your intervention to suit your individual eating and drinking needs. This may include the following approaches:
Swallowing assessment and mealtime observations
Your speech pathologist can visit you at home or in the community to observe your current environment and how you eat and drink. They may observe:
- your positioning when you consume food and drink
- how you put food or drink into your mouth (or how you are supported with eating and drinking)
- the texture and consistency of the food and drink you consume
- the environment(s) in which you eat
- and observe for any signs of swallowing difficulty (e.g. coughing, choking, gurgly voice)
Consideration of all these factors helps your speech pathologist to see the ‘bigger picture’. This helps them choose the safest food and drink textures for you to consume, and what other supports or strategies are required.
Information, advice, and strategies for the management of swallowing difficulties
Your speech pathologist can provide recommendations on texture-modified (e.g. easy to chew, soft and bite-sized, minced, pureed) foods and fluids of varying thicknesses to reduce the risk of coughing or choking.
Other supports include prescription of rehabilitation exercises, safe swallowing strategies, compensatory techniques, environmental strategies, and feeding equipment to support safe and comfortable eating and drinking.
Your speech pathologist can develop an individualised Mealtime Management Plan that outlines food and drink recommendations, safe swallowing strategies and other strategies for yourself and/or caregivers to ensure you have safe and enjoyable mealtimes.
Education and training for caregivers and support staff
It is important that caregivers and support staff are trained and educated about the signs of swallowing difficulties and ways to make mealtimes safe and stress-free. Our speech pathologists can provide this support face to face, over the phone, or via Telehealth.
Enjoying a full, meaningful life when you have trouble eating, drinking, and swallowing might seem unrealistic. But you aren’t alone. Over a million other Australians live with dysphagia, and many of them are successfully navigating a life with chronic swallowing difficulties. By seeking support and implementing the tips provided by our speech pathologists, you can move forward and find ways to live successfully with dysphagia.
Contact us today!
Our speech pathology services can be accessed through a range of funding options. We can help you find out if you are eligible and provide information about the options available. If you feel you may benefit from our speech pathology services or would like any more information on our services, please call us on 1300 340 440.
Or if you are ready to make a referral click here.