As Australia’s population continues to age, the speech pathologist’s role in aged care becomes increasingly important. It is our role to advocate and provide communication and mealtime support for older people in hospitals, the community as well as in residential aged care facilities.
Older people experience difficulties with communication and mealtimes at a significantly higher rate, often complicated by multiple co-existing conditions. These difficulties are often chronic or degenerative requiring continued support as their needs continue to change over time. Communication and mealtime difficulties directly affect quality of life. They can lead to social isolation and loss of independence.
As speech pathologists we have a role in assessment, direct intervention, consulting, education and advocacy for all things relating to communication and swallowing.
Mealtimes of older people may be impacted by dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) as well as cognitive, sensory, emotional and behavioural difficulties. Dysphagia occurs in varying degrees in over 50% of aged care residents. Individuals with dysphagia are at increased risk of food/fluids entering their lungs, difficulty swallowing medication and at a very high risk of malnutrition.
As human beings, mealtimes are inherently social. Often those with swallowing difficulties experience reduced participation in mealtimes and increased social isolation. Speech Pathologists ensure swallowing safety as well as optimise social participation during mealtimes. Some ways in which we do this are:
- Providing textured modified diets and thickened fluids
- Providing education regarding safe swallowing positioning and strategies as well as enhancing the mealtime environment to increase participation
- Providing swallowing exercises to rehabilitate swallowing muscles
- Optimising the environment to enable both safe mealtimes and social participation at the same time
As people age normal changes to their communication occurs due to sensory loss, such as hearing and vision. Additionally, their chance of acquiring communication disorders due conditions such as stroke, dementia, Parkinson Disease and cancer increases.
Impoverished communication reduces both independence and the opportunity for meaningful life participation. It can impact relationships with family and limit autonomy in both daily activities as well as in important decisions. Speech Pathologists can support communication by providing:
- Communication therapy
- Developing communication aids and resources
- Communication partner training
- Aphasia groups
- Social communication groups
- Voice Treatment (such as the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment Program) for people with Parkinson Disease
If you or anyone you know is experiencing difficulties with communication or difficulties at mealtimes please contact us to find out what we could do to help you or your loved one today.