When you are a Speech-Language Pathologist, you almost always bring your work home with you. And if it’s not in the form of paperwork, it’s your clinical thoughts and opinions.
We are passionate professionals, and it’s common for our brains to frequently be in “problem-solving mode”. I can only speak from the perspective of working with the elderly population, where often the issues that arise may not be so transparent. Specifically, issues such as dysphagia, receptive aphasia, or voice difficulties are often subtle, and may be over-looked by the client themselves, or their family members.
I enjoy dining out in restaurants. Either alone doing paperwork, or alongside a paperwork buddy. Countless times I have seen an elderly individual sitting with their family, eating and drinking while showing overt signs of aspiration. I feel like screaming out loud “they need a swallowing assessment ASAP!!” however it is not an appropriate place or time. And frankly, I am aware that I might frighten their family members. I am personally aware that I know all of the signs of aspiration, however I ask myself, “is this individuals family aware that they may be micro-aspirating their food and liquid?” Moreover, that “they may have a delayed swallow reflex”, or even “they might end up in the hospital because of difficulty swallowing”? I have seen this happen so often, and can see the signs a mile away.
So for anyone reading blog, I ask you, are you aware of the signs of clinical aspiration? Could your loved one be aspirating without your knowledge? Are their lungs compromised? What does clinical aspiration mean? What are the dangers? What is normal versus abnormal?
If we were to pull out a medical dictionary, clinical aspiration would be defined as “the common definition of aspiration is the inhalation of oropharyngeal or gastric contents into the larynx and lower respiratory tract”. However in lay terms, what does this really mean? Who is at risk of aspiration?
In short, any individual who suffers from the following can be at risk of aspiration:
- neurological disorders
- throat cancer
- medical conditions like myasthenia gravisor Parkinson’s disease
- excessive use of alcohol or prescription or illegal drugs
- use of sedatives or anesthesia
- a weakened immune system
- esophageal disorders
- dental problems that interfere with chewing or swallowing
What are some of the signs and symptoms of aspiration?
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- Throat clearing
- Spiking a temperature after an evidenced choking or coughing spell
- Changes in vocal quality while eating and/or drinking
- blue discolouration of the skin
- cough, possibly with green sputum, blood, or a foul odour
- difficulty swallowing
- bad breath
- excessive sweating
So if your family member is eating a meal or drinking a beverage, and they start choking, throat clearing, or any of the signs mentioned above, a certified Speech-Language Pathologist can help. You may find your family member dismissing the discomfort of swallowing difficulties, and may even say “it’s ok sometimes my food just goes down the wrong way”. However these are signs and symptoms that should not be ignored.
At Pillars of Wellness, in Burlington, we can help. If you are concerned about your elderly family member and want to obtain more information about swallowing impairments, difficulty with communication, and vocal difficulties, please don’t hesitate to contact our team.
Article written by Tanya May, Speech-Language Pathologist