Dysphagia – a difficult diagnosis to swallow!


Did you know the average Australian swallows 500-700 times a day? That’s around three times an hour during sleep, once per minute while awake and even more while eating.

Most Australians are unaware how difficulty with swallowing can be frightening and life threatening. It’s why on Wednesday 16 March 2022, speech pathologists and Flinders Rural and Remote Health NT academics Melissa (Melba) Ridd, Franceska (Fran) Edis, and Narelle Campbell are campaigning to promote Swallowing Awareness Day.

Melba, Fran and Narelle are working to train the next generation of allied health practitioners, including speech pathologists, as well as undertake important research.

Discussing swallowing while swallowing!
Speech students, paediatricians, GPs and Aboriginal Health Practitioners at Wurli Aboriginal Health Service in Katherine.

Swallowing Awareness Day 2022 is an opportunity to bring attention to swallowing disorders and to connect people with speech pathologists, the professionals who can help. Speech Pathologists assess and treat people with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) – pronounced ‘dis-fay-juh’.

Around 15‐30 per cent of people aged 65+ living in the community have a swallowing difficulty, with that figure rising to over 50 per cent for older Australians living in a nursing home. And after falls, choking is the second biggest killer of nursing home residents.

Swallowing problems can mean food, drinks or saliva gets into the lungs (aspiration) and this can cause lung infections (pneumonia). Severe swallowing complications can lead to death, while other swallowing complications can lead to poor nutrition, dehydration, health complications, and social isolation.

Flinders Rural and Remote Health NT supports speech pathology students to complete clinical placements across the Territory. Domestic speech pathology students from all universities around Australia are supported to complete placements in the NT. Due to the shortage of speech pathologists in more remote areas of the NT, Flinders Rural and Remote Health NT staff have been working hard to enable speech pathology students to attend placements in Alyangula, Nhulunbuy, and Katherine in 2022.

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