Most people associate speech-language pathology with communication disorders, whether it’s helping a child with a lisp or stutter, or helping a person with neurological injury speak again. But did you know speech-language pathologists also specialize in helping people who have trouble swallowing? Also called dysphagia, swallowing issues can involve any part of the swallowing process, from moving food in the mouth, to food “going down the wrong pipe” and entering the lungs. Speech-language pathologists are trained in dysphagia management and rehabilitation.
Problems with swallowing can occur in a range of situations, including dementia, following a stroke, with neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, or even in premature infants. A speech-language pathologist can work with a person who has swallowing issues to increase safety while eating and drinking. Here are three different ways a speech-language pathologist can help a person who has trouble swallowing:
Dietary Texture Changes: One of the main roles of a speech therapist in dysphagia management is recommending the safest dietary texture for a patient. For example, a person may have trouble controlling thin liquids, like water, and find that they often “go down the wrong pipe.” In this case, the speech pathologist will recommend thickened liquids to make them easier to swallow. In other cases, a person may have difficulty chewing food, and may need it ground up and softened. A speech-language pathologist will identify a person’s personal strengths and challenges, and recommend the dietary texture that will help them the most.
Compensatory and Safe-swallow Strategies: Speech-language pathologists will also provide a patient with strategies they can use while eating or drinking to make swallowing safer. This can include education on basic safety measures, like taking small bites and sips and eating at a slower pace. It may also include special techniques to help make swallowing safer and easier, like tucking your chin downward, turning your head to one side, or alternating liquids and solids while eating.
Exercises and to Improve Swallowing Function: Speech pathologists often provide a patient with exercises that they can do to make their swallow stronger and safer. This often involves the use of technology, for example, devices that provide electrical stimulation to the muscles involved in swallowing. There are also devices that provide biofeedback, allowing the patient to see the strength of their swallow on a screen. This visual feedback helps many people develop a better sense of their current level of functioning and feel the level of effort needed to swallow safely.
Want to learn more? If you have any questions or would like to know more about speech-language therapy, give me a call at (212) 308-7725 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to chat and answer any questions you may have.
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