South West Healthcare speech pathologists host Swallowing Awareness Day

Speak up: South West Healthcare speech pathologist Sheree Hammersley and allied health assistants Haylee Trigg and Samantha Morley are hoping to raise awareness about swallowing difficulties. Picture: Christine Ansorge
Speak up: South West Healthcare speech pathologist Sheree Hammersley and allied health assistants Haylee Trigg and Samantha Morley are hoping to raise awareness about swallowing difficulties. Picture: Christine Ansorge

It’s something the average Australian does 900 times a day.

It happens on average three times an hour during sleep, once-a-minute while awake and even more during meals.

Despite these statistics almost one million Australians have difficulty swallowing.

On Wednesday, South West Healthcare’s speech pathologists were hosting a Swallowing Awareness Day in the hospital foyer.

The team of eight were on hand offering advice and information to the general public, as well as staff and patients, between 10am and 1pm.

This year’s theme of Swallowing is Ageless was aimed at bringing attention to swallowing disorders and advising the professionals who deal with related issues.

Known as dysphagia, SWH speech pathologist Kate Fanning said swallowing swallowing disorders can occur in various age groups.

‘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,’ Kate explains.

Swallowing is a skill developed from infancy. A swallowing problem can occur at any stage of life:

Babies born prematurely or children with abnormalities with the structure of their head, neck and face can have trouble feeding because of swallowing difficulties

Around 15–30 percent of people aged 65+ living in the community have a swallowing difficulty and that figure rises above 50 percent for older Australians living in nursing homes (choking is the second biggest cause of death for nursing home residents)

Almost 50 percent of stroke survivors experience swallowing difficulties

69 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease and 25 percent of people with Multiple Sclerosis have swallowing difficulties

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 Kate describes as a largely invisible disorder that’s poorly understood by the general community and rarely addressed in government policy.

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