Eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties (dysphagia) are experienced by at least a third of adults with mental health conditions, dementia and acquired neurological diagnoses. Dysphagia often goes unrecognised until severe, however, and fatal choking incidents or aspiration pneumonia are leading causes of premature death in people with mental health conditions. The impact of any level of dysphagia can be considerable, affecting not just physical health but also quality of life issues such as socialising and relationships. My PhD research brings together communication and swallowing difficulty – the two roles of Speech and Language Therapy. As a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist the extent of my role is often misunderstood; so my work has involved raising awareness of the impact of dysphagia in this population (Guthrie et al., 2015; Guthrie & Stansfield, 2017).

“What would it be like if you couldn’t share a meal or a drink with family or friends?”

This year’s Dysphagia Awareness Day (#swallowaware2019) takes place on Wednesday 13th March as part of Nutrition and Hydration week. Speech and Language Therapists, Healthy Living Practitioners, Dietitians and other clinicians across the Leeds and York Partnership Foundation Trust are offering staff and service users with mental health conditions the chance to try some different smoothies and to think about how they swallow and cope with different consistencies.

As you eat, drink and swallow on Wednesday, take a moment to think about how important food and drink is in your everyday life. How would you feel if every swallow was painful or you were at risk of choking or aspirating (when food or drink ‘goes down the wrong way’)? What would it be like if you couldn’t share a meal or a drink with family or friends?

Susan Guthrie is a Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist and CArDINAL Clinical Academic Research Fellow. You can follow Susan on Twitter @SusanGuthrieSLT and on Researchgate. To find out more about the events taking place across the Leeds and York Partnership Foundation Trust please contact Susan via our contact page or directly (hcsg@leeds.ac.uk). If you have any concerns about swallowing please seek a referral to Speech and Language Therapy for assessment and advice.

References

Guthrie, S., Lecko, C. and Roddam, H. (2015) Care staff perceptions of choking incidents: what details are reported? Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 28(2), pp.121-132.

Guthrie, S. and Stansfield, J. (2017) Teatime Threats. Choking Incidents at the Evening Meal. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities: JARID, 30(1), pp.47-60.

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