When you think of a speech pathologist and what they do, you may not think about mealtime and swallowing disorders. Difficulties in swallowing are often detected by loud coughing, choking or difficulties with breathing, making it easy for families and staff to detect an issue with a person’s swallowing. But what happens if there is silence? Does that mean everything is alright? Is everything normal? Is there no cause for concern?????
Silent aspiration (food or drink entering the lungs) is common in people with swallowing difficulties. Silent aspiration has been reported as high as 67% in patients with a disability.
The big problem for the family and staff is that unfortunately these silently aspirating people, who are at most risk of pneumonia, are the most likely people to be missed……
So how do we combat such a scary and life-threating statistic?
People with a disability should be monitored closely for eating and drinking difficulties, including problems with;
- Saliva and food management.
- Chewing difficulties
- Food refusal
- Rapid and unexplained weight loss
- Difficulties in using utensils and mealtime equipment
- Choking, gasping and coughing; either during or after a meal
- Looking distressed, appears to be in discomfort or has watery eyes
- Recurrent chest infections
- Changes in behaviour around eating and drinking times e.g. verbalizing more, pushing away with their hands
- Speech pathologists who work with people with disabilities often have years of extra training to detect swallowing disorders and manage them so that the person is safe to eat and drink and still maintain their quality of life by enjoying the mealtime environment.
An eating and drinking Assessment can be conducted by a qualified speech pathologist to investigate any difficulties and concerns you may have in regards to how a person is swallowing. Eating and drinking plans can be completed by the speech pathologist to ensure all safety measures have been considered around the mealtime environment.