We swallow food, drinks, and saliva every day. We do it about 90 times per day. We barely think twice. We are unaware of the food choices we make each day.
If you are unable to swallow, then the traditional Christmas roasted nuts and dried fruit can be a choking hazard. A festive snack at the market could result in an emergency hospital visit. Fear of embarrassment or of revealing they can’t manage certain foods can prevent people from telling others about their symptoms. They may take longer to eat, avoid more difficult foods, eat less, or say they no longer like the foods they previously enjoyed.
People with swallowing disabilities can feel depressed and frustrated if they are excluded from a meal or cannot participate in the event.
Swallowing disabilities can lead to unplanned hospitalizations with significant costs. Coughing or choking can cause reduced pleasure in meals. Aspiration pneumonia if food is inhaled. Choking Death.
Managed swallowing disability impacts family members, home routines, and household. Many family members alter the type of food they eat in order to include the person with swallowing disabilities. It is not always safe to eat the food offered at restaurants, weddings, parties, and religious events.
The stigma associated with swallowing disability may cause a person, their partner, spouse or family member, to stop going out in order to avoid being embarrassed.
“… “When you cannot swallow, you only think of the fact that you are unable to swallow.”
People with swallowing disabilities need to be treated immediately.
Speech pathologists are often the lead professionals in teams that provide services to individuals with swallowing disabilities. They assess a person’s swallow and make recommendations for changing food textures. They also identify ways to improve the person’s participation, independence, and inclusion at mealtimes. They also determine how the person with a disability can communicate their food preferences to family members and directly support workers.
Treatment for swallowing problems is dependent on the cause. Speech pathologists teach techniques that improve oral skills. This includes preparing the patient how to take the first bite, move the food forward, and chew it before swallowing. They can advise on how to avoid choking by observing the head and neck postures and eating habits.
The National Disability Insurance Agency recently refused funding for speech pathology services for people with swallowing disabilities. A person’s difficulty eating and drinking for their entire life is not considered a social issue that affects participation and inclusion. This puts people and their families in danger of further exclusion and isolation.
People with swallowing disabilities need more support and want better access to services in order to adapt to the emotional, psychological, and socio-economic changes that result from their swallowing difficulty.