Handout: What is Dysphagia?

Handout: What is Dysphagia?

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Visualization of swallow anatomy/physiology for speech-language pathologists targeting dysphagia. Resource for SLPs, patients, and medical/therapy staff.

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!

TECH SPECS: Digital download (5.8 MB). JPG format. 1 page, 8.5x11 inches. High resolution (300 dpi).