Swallowing difficulties are common in people residing in care homes. Early identification, assessment and management by care home staff may result in a decrease in the incidence of pneumonia and death. Therefore, it is important for staff to be aware of the signs of dysphagia and what to do in order to prevent further deterioration in a resident’s condition.
Dr. Elizabeth Boaden is a fellow of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and has spent over 30 years working to improve the quality of life of those living with dysphagia.
Dr. Boaden has created a set of courses on dysphagia. These courses have been researched and developed for the benefit of all healthcare workers and nurses, and are due to be available on myAko.com.
WHAT IS DYSPHAGIA?
Dysphagia is the term used to describe difficulties swallowing. Difficulties may range from a decrease in chewing ability to food and drinks going onto the lungs causing aspiration pneumonia and death.
Dysphagia is a common feature of many congenital and acquired structural and neurological difficulties. It is not possible to provide accurate figures regarding the prevalence of dysphagia, as it is often unrecognised and underdiagnosed. Dysphagia affects approximately 8% of the global population. Although swallowing difficulties are seen in the paediatric population, the greater incidence is in adult client group. The incidence of commonly occuring elderly neurological diseases in the older population are stroke (45-78%), Parkinson’s disease (75-100%) and Alzeimer’s disease (90%).
Swallowing involves six cranial nerves and over 26 pairs of muscles, with the oesophagus opening within a fraction of a second of airway closure. It is therefore unsurprising that everyone has experienced at least one incident where just a slight incoordination of the swallow has caused coughing and choking as food and drink enter the airway. It is therefore to be expected that dysphagia occurs in approximately 35% of the normal aging elderly population owing to weakness in the muscles for swallowing. Furthermore, it has been reported that up to 74% of residents in care homes will present with swallowing difficulties of some description.
AWARENESS AND EDUCATION
The training, available on myAko.com, helps healthcare workers to better understand the impact of dysphagia and how to help those in their care. The nurses training helps them support Speech and Language Therapists with remote dysphagia assessments, without the need for face-to-face visits. Utilising remote teleswallowing techniques helps to reduce current NHS waiting lists and nurses and carers are able to improve early diagnosis and treatment of dysphagia.
It is imperative for care staff to be able to quickly and effectively screen for dysphagia, as a delay in doing so may have devastating effects. It is a care worker’s duty to ease the struggle presented by dysphagia; not only to avoid the possibility of death, but to simply ensure that a resident’s later life and emotional well-being is as comfortable and content as possible.