Swallowing Difficulty and People with Intellectual Disability – Part 1

hard to swallow campaign

11th May 2016 is Swallowing Awareness Day, an event organised by Speech Pathology Australia.

Speech pathologists are one of the main health professionals working with people who have swallowing difficulties.

Swallowing difficulties are also called “dysphagia” (pronounced dis-fay-gia) as this means ‘disorder of swallowing’.

You can find out more about the awareness day here


5 facts about swallowing difficulty

1. What is it?

Swallowing difficulty = problems swallowing.
It can affect chewing, swallowing food or fluids, swallowing medications, or swallowing saliva.

2. How common is it?

Swallowing difficulty is very common. It affects most people with an intellectual disability.
Swallowing difficulties can be ‘mild’ ‘moderate’ ‘severe’ or ‘profound’.

3. What does it involve?

Some of the signs of swallowing difficulty can be:

- Problems with chewing or moving the food backwards in the mouth

- Foods left over in the mouth after meals

- Coughing – coughing more – or coughing on a wider range of foods or fluids

- Choking, food getting stuck in the airway, needing to be cleared

- Increased chest infections or hospitalisation

- Losing or gaining weight without trying to

4. How is it managed?

There are a lot of ways to manage swallowing difficulties, so that you can keep enjoying foods and drinks.
It is important to see a speech pathologist for an assessment of your swallow and for advice on what to do about it.

5. What can be done to help?

There are a lot of things that can help people with swallowing difficulty.  Many things can be adjusted to help the person to manage foods more safely. This can include the food, drinks, mealtime equipment, assistance provided, and ways of eating or drinking. Whatever the person needs, a speech pathologist and the doctor and other health professionals work with the person to help to find ways to help.

Biggest tip!

Seek advice: Tell your doctor and ask to see a speech pathologist for help if you are worried about your swallowing.


Picture: Gary Radler www.garyradler.com

Guest post: A/Prof Bronwyn Hemsley, Certified Practicing Speech Pathologist,

The University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia

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