This month's blog has been written by one of our Principal Speech and Language Therapists, Colin Barnes, with Nutrition and Hydration week in mind.
If you knew someone with feeding and swallowing difficulties, would you think about asking for help from Speech and Language Therapy? When we visit people, they often say “there’s nothing wrong with my speech” then we have to explain we’re there to assess their swallowing.
There are a wide range of people who experience “dysphagia” – the term we use for swallowing difficulties. These include people who have had strokes, head injuries, head and neck surgery, progressive illnesses, dementia and learning disabilities.
When people have difficulty swallowing, which can be with food, fluid, medication or saliva, this can lead to a chest infection and for some people can mean an increased risk of choking. If your drinks or food are going down the wrong way, there is also some evidence to say that having poor mouth care also increases the risk of a chest infection.
Difficulties with swallowing can also make it harder for people to eat and drink enough, which over the long term can lead to reduced nutrition and hydration. In these cases, it’s important that care services monitor what and how much people can and cannot eat.
So much of our social time involves eating and drinking, imagine what it would be like if this was difficult? People with swallowing difficulty can often feel excluded. Some are also embarrassed by their difficulties. To add to this, many of the people we see with dysphagia also have conditions that cause communication difficulties.
So, when we meet someone with dysphagia, whilst making recommendations about the safest food, fluids, positions or equipment to use, we are also interested in supporting them to continue communicating at mealtimes. Many of our assessments e.g. in nursing homes or day centres, happen at mealtimes. We’ll often observe what’s happening in a holistic way. We give individualised recommendations, but also try to share examples of good practice. If anyone is concerned about difficulties with swallowing they can refer to us directly through the single point of access on 0300 300 2011.