As Speech Pathologists working in aged care, Plena clinicians see clients with swallowing difficulties every day. In fact, approximately 50% of aged care residents experience problems with chewing and swallowing, with choking being the second most common cause of preventable death in aged care. Many people don’t realise speech pathology treatment is readily available for swallowing concerns and dysphagia.


For Plena Speech Pathologist Emma Lucas, who is based in Sydney, swallowing concerns and dysphagia (the medical term for problems chewing and swallowing) make up the majority of the work she does with her clients. This came as a surprise when she first started studying, as like many, she didn’t realise that swallowing was a part of the speech pathology scope of practice.


“I knew I wanted to work with adults, but I thought that was mainly about speech and language, helping people post stroke and traumatic brain injury” says Emma.


“When I completed the swallowing subject at uni I thought ‘oh, this is really interesting” she continues. “I think it’s a very underrated part of speech pathology that not as many people know about.”


March 13th 2024 is Swallowing Awareness Day, supported by Speech Pathology Australia.


Swallowing Awareness Day is an opportunity to bring attention to swallowing disorders and to connect people with speech pathologists, the professionals who can help.


Common symptoms of swallowing disorders and dysphagia include;

  • Pain or discomfort while swallowing
  • Feeling like food or fluid is “going down the wrong way”
  • Coughing on food or drinks when eating
  • Becoming short of breath when eating
  • Having a wet voice or wet cough after eating
  • Taking a long time to chew or holding food and drink in your mouth
  • Having trouble controlling your saliva or the food and drink within your mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing tablets or pills


For many, these symptoms can present gradually, getting worse over time, so it is important to be aware of the signs so intervention by a speech pathologist can be arranged. 


“Mealtimes are such an important part of our culture and I’m very passionate about making that a comfortable, enjoyable and safe experience for people” says Emma. 


Speech pathologists can assist with a number of treatments and interventions for people with swallowing difficulties or dysphagia. The most common treatment Emma says is the prescription of texture modified foods and liquids.


“We may thicken up fluids to make it easier and safer for someone to swallow” she says. “It can also be changing the texture of food, for example some people might do better on what we call a ‘minced and moist’ diet, and others may require a liquidised diet or to be fed through a tube directly into their stomach.”


“Choking is a massive risk and we want to prevent that as much as we can by supporting safe swallowing, and maintaining quality of life. We want to make sure that people can enjoy their food whilst balancing the risks of choking and aspiration”


There are also behavioural cues and physical exercises that can be implemented, like ensuring a client is in an upright position when eating, eating and drinking at a slow rate, and exercises that strengthen the muscles in the mouth and neck. 


For an experienced speech pathologist like Emma, awareness of dysphagia symptoms amongst older Australians, their families and carers is key to improving quality of life, so too is the knowledge that speech pathologists are available and equipped to help.


“If you or a family member are experiencing symptoms of dysphagia, speech pathologists are trained specifically to help and make eating and drinking a comfortable and enjoyable experience for you” says Emma.


You can learn more about swallowing awareness day on the Speech Pathology Australia website


Get in touch with us to understand how Plena Speech Pathologists can assist you or your loved one with swallowing concerns.