But while most of us take swallowing for granted there’s close to a million Australians who have difficulty with swallowing. Not only can it be frightening, it can be life threatening. And that’s why South West Healthcare’s speech pathologists have today teamed up with Speech Pathology Australia to promote Swallowing Awareness Day.
This year’s theme of Food and drink to die for not only raises awareness of swallowing disorders (known as dysphagia, pronounced dis-fay-juh) but highlights the lesser-known fact that speech pathologists are the professionals who can help. They provide assessment and treatment for people with swallowing difficulties.
SWH speech pathologist Sheree Bennett says Swallowing Awareness Day is an opportunity for all of us to learn more about dysphagia and how it impacts on the lives of family and friends, and our wider community.
‘Swallowing problems can cause food, drink or saliva to get into the lungs (aspiration) which can cause lung infections (pneumonia). Swallowing complications can also lead to poor nutrition, dehydration, social isolation and in extreme cases, death,’ Sheree explains.
Swallowing is a skill developed from infancy. A swallowing problem can occur at any stage of life:
Australians with undiagnosed difficulties are frequently referred to health practitioners other than speech pathologists – often for expensive and invasive investigations – when a speech pathologist could readily manage what Sheree describes as a largely invisible disorder that’s poorly understood by the general community and rarely addressed in government policy.
Up to 50 percent of adult (community-based) clients our SWH speech pathologists work with have a swallowing difficulty and that percentage is far higher for the inpatients they work with in our hospitals where, for example, they complete a swallowing assessment on every stroke patient.
photo > Our speech pathologists catch up for a coffee - just one of the day-to-day things so taken for granted by those of us who don’t experience swallowing difficulties. From left, Cassie Brown, Erin Adams, Wren Bowie, Elisia Nicol and Sheree Bennett. Photo credit: The Standard and photographer Rob Gunstone.