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Hard to Swallow: Improving Dysphagia Assessment and Treatment

What would you miss if you were unable to swallow normally?

The robust flavour of that first sip of morning coffee? Sharing a celebratory birthday meal with your family? Biting into a crisp slice of baguette topped with grated Parmesan cheese, olive oil and freshly picked tomato and basil? 

Swallowing disorders—which affect up to 30 per cent of individuals over 65—can rob people of these simple pleasures and more. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why, in a 2016 study of 180 patients hospitalized with serious illnesses, 55.6 per cent considered the need to rely on a feeding tube as either equal to, or worse than death. 

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are trained to assess and treat swallowing disorders (which are known medically as dysphagia).

However, until recently, the methods of doing so relied more on an SLP’s individual judgment than any objective measurements. And some of their tools—such as adding thickening agents to beverages, and pureeing foods—were not always tailored to an individual patient’s needs. 

But that’s begun to change, thanks in large part to Professor Catriona Steele, a senior scientist and Director of the Swallowing Research Laboratory at UHN’s KITE Research Institute, who is also an SLP.

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Professor Steele about her work for an article the KITE Research Institute commissioned from ALLCAPS Content. 

Learn what she, and a grateful patient and his partner shared with me by reading this story: ‘Hard to Swallow’. 

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors Courtesy of Pixabay