Speech-language therapy benefits SNF residents with dysphagia.

A Look Inside Speech-Language Therapy: Understanding Dysphagia

Speech-language therapy is often associated with speech and language disorders only. However, swallowing disorders, known as dysphagia, also play a significant part in speech-language therapy services.

Dysphagia affects approximately one in 25 adults each year. Though people of any age can develop the disorder, it’s most prevalent in older adults—particularly those in acute and chronic care settings. In fact, one study showed that between 50 and 75 percent of Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) residents have difficulty swallowing.

If not managed, dysphagia can have negative and even dangerous consequences, including malnutrition, dehydration, choking, chronic lung disease, aspiration pneumonia, and even death. Dysphagia can also take a heavy toll on residents’ lifestyles and social well-being.

For example, residents who struggle with a swallowing disorder often experience a loss of interest or enjoyment in eating and drinking, as well as in participating in social situations, due to feelings of embarrassment or isolation.

Let’s take a look at some common causes of dysphagia and how speech-language therapy can help residents manage the disorder.

Speech-Language Therapy Providers Play a Central Role in The Assessment of Dysphagia

An integral part of a speech-language therapy provider’s role in treating residents with dysphagia is identifying the symptoms of dysphagia and determining the cause the disorder.

While a speech-language therapist’s clinical perspective largely guides the management of dysphagia, a team approach is necessary. To get to the root cause of dysphagia in residents and provide a comprehensive diagnosis, therapy providers collaborate with other members of an SNF’s multidisciplinary team to determine if the swallowing problem is due to neuromuscular or structural causes.

Though the causes of dysphagia are not always identifiable, the disorder generally develops following damage to the central nervous system or an injury or illness related to the head or neck.

Some of the most common medical causes of the disorder include:

  • stroke
  • traumatic brain injury
  • dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • multiple sclerosis
  • ALS
  • developmental disorders, such as cerebral palsy
  • cancer of the head, neck, or throat
  • chemoradiation treatment for head and neck cancer
  • poor dental health
  • certain pulmonary diseases, such as cardiac obstructive pulmonary disease

Managing Dysphagia Through Speech-Language Therapy

A resident’s symptoms and medical history, along with various neurological and swallowing tests, help guide his or her diagnosis. Once the cause of dysphagia is identified, the therapy provider and team can develop a treatment plan tailored to the resident’s unique needs.

Speech-language therapy can help residents improve the strength and function of muscles involved in swallowing, learn best feeding methods and techniques, and discover safe swallowing maneuvers.

A speech therapist can also educate family members and other caregivers on how to help their loved one stick to the treatment plan. For example, trained family members and caregivers can help with following prescribed exercises and activities, preparing foods based on the provider’s recommendations, and keeping track of food and beverage intake.

At Apex Rehab, we’re dedicated to providing comprehensive speech-language therapy services to help SNF residents successfully manage their activities and improve their quality of life. To learn how our unique services can benefit your SNF, call (412) 963-9698 or complete this quick form.