Treating Swallowing Disorders in Adults and GeriatricsApr 26, 2023
Swallowing is a complex process that involves multiple muscles and nerves to move food and liquid from the mouth to the stomach. Swallowing disorders, also known as dysphagia, can impact anyone at any age, but it is more common in older adults and those with certain medical conditions. Swallowing disorders can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, aspiration, pneumonia, and other health complications if left untreated. This is where the role of a speech language pathologist (SLP) comes in.
The Evaluation Process
The evaluation process begins with a comprehensive assessment of the patient's medical history, current symptoms, and any medications they may be taking. The SLP will then perform a clinical examination of the patient's oral motor function, swallowing ability, and communication skills. In some cases, the SLP may recommend additional tests such as a Videofluoroscopic swallow study (VFSS) or Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES) to get a more detailed understanding of the patient's swallowing function.
The treatment plan for dysphagia will depend on the underlying cause and severity of the swallowing disorder. The SLP will work with the patient and their healthcare team to develop a personalized plan that may include:
SLPs may recommend specific exercises to help strengthen the muscles involved in swallowing. These exercises may include:
- Tongue exercises to improve tongue strength and coordination
- Swallowing exercises to improve the timing and coordination of the swallow
- Breath support exercises to improve the strength and control of the respiratory system
In some cases, the SLP may recommend changes to the patient's diet to make swallowing easier and safer. This may include:
- Thickening liquids to reduce the risk of aspiration
- Chopping or pureeing solid foods to make them easier to swallow
- Avoiding certain foods that are difficult to swallow
SLPs may also recommend behavioral modifications to improve swallowing function. This may include:
- Postural changes such as sitting upright during meals
- Taking smaller bites and sips to reduce the risk of choking
- Taking time to chew food thoroughly before swallowing
In some cases, additional medical interventions may be necessary to treat dysphagia. This may include:
- Medications to reduce inflammation or improve muscle function
- Surgery to correct structural abnormalities or remove obstructions
- Feeding tubes to provide nutrition and hydration when oral intake is not safe or sufficient
Dysphagia can be a serious and potentially life-threatening condition if left untreated. Speech Language Pathologists play a critical role in the evaluation and treatment of swallowing disorders in adults and geriatrics. Through a comprehensive assessment and personalized treatment plan, SLPs can help patients improve their swallowing function and reduce the risk of complications. If you or a loved one is experiencing difficulty swallowing, don't hesitate to contact a Speech Language Pathologist for an evaluation.
Nancy Wariari, MHA, MS CCC-SLP
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