Handout: What is Dysphagia? - in English, Español, Français, Italiano, or Português
Before I became a speech-language pathologist, I worked with geologists to communicate their research. I was often challenged to communicate concepts that were right in front of us: mountains, rivers, continents. It seems easy enough; we live amongst these things our whole lives on this planet. And yet, these concepts- their origin and evolution can be so very difficult to visualize. The human brain is so tuned in to what is happening right here, right now in front of us.
Describing the anatomy/physiology of dysphagia reminds me of describing how the earth’s crust rebounds when an ice sheet melts. It’s very, very difficult to visualize the scale, the timing, and the outcome.
I love visualizations. They make things concrete and understandable. When I forget my visuals at a dysphagia eval, and I’m trying to explain the swallow to someone who has recently come out of anesthesia or had a stroke or hit their head on the kitchen counter, we can both get very, very lost. I point to my throat. I point to my chest. I talk about tubes and valves and some strange thing called the epiglottis. I note the delay, the poor strength and coordination. We talk about aspiration. We agree that thickened liquids are best for now. And then I leave the room and they wonder what in the world just happened as they push their call button for a glass of water.
This dysphagia handout provides a quick, simple visual guide to the anatomy/physiology of the swallow mechanism. It repeats information that you have provided them, giving them a chance to process the information over time and follow up with questions about dysphagia. It also allows their loved ones and friends to get a sense for what’s going on before they bring in their favorite soft drink.
It’s also a great resource for your fellow nursing staff, dietitians, physical therapists, and occupational therapists. Imagine how many fewer times you’d have to harangue about thickened liquids if staff understood why the need, rather than what in the world?
Enjoy and happy dysphagia therapy!
Spanish version translated by María Del Mar Díaz Martínez, SLP. María is a medically-based-SLP. She obtained her BS in psychology at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico. In 2013, she completed her Masters in Speech-Language Pathology at Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico. She works in hospital settings with a focus on critical care, respiratory problems, stroke, and late stage dementia, tracheostomies, and neurological impairments. She is a clinical supervisor at the clinic of Carlos Albizu University. She is passionate about continuing to improve the life quality of the adult population with the highest quality and competence standards.
Portuguese version translated by Ana Athayde Campos is a portuguese SLP (Terapeuta da Fala) who lives and works near Lisbon, Portugal. She graduated in Escola Superior de Saúde do Alcoitão in 2015, having spent a semester in Thomas More Hogeschool in Antwerp, Belgium, and completed her post-graduation in dysphagia in 2017. She works in schools and clinics with both children and adults. Ana describes the world as the place where the most wonderful thing happens: human connection.
(English version) Included in: Bundle: Dysphagia Patient, Staff, and Family Education.
French translation by Cindy Levesque-Boissonneault
Cindy is a French-speaking SLP (orthophoniste) in the province of Quebec (Canada). She works in acute care and inpatient rehabilitation. She is also a lecturer at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières.
Italian translation by Mirko Fabrizo.
Mirko studied speech-language pathology at La Sapienza University of Rome in Italy. He specializes in voice and swallowing. Mirko lives in Latina, a city near Rome.
Tech specs: Digital download (5.8 MB). JPG format. 1 page, 8.5x11 inches. High resolution (300 dpi). Available in English, Español, or Français.