How Speech Pathologists support our residents with swallowing issues

As people age, they often have problems with functions that need professional support to manage, ensuring comfort and a better quality of life. One of these can be the simple act of swallowing. Experts tell us that 50 – 70 % residents of aged care facilities have problems swallowing.

Dysphagia is the medical term used to describe difficulty in eating, drinking and/or swallowing. It can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, aspiration pneumonia and choking. It can also be distressing for the sufferers who generally have to eat and drink very slowly and deliberately.

To help manage dysphagia, the work of Speech Pathologists is vital. In Australia, Speech Pathology Week is being held 23-29 August, promoting the speech pathology profession and the valuable support it provides to more than 1.2 million Australians.

Across the SummitCare group of ten residential aged care homes in Sydney and Wallsend, Newcastle, Speech Pathologists regularly work with residents and other care staff to manage individual cases, supported by documented policies and procedures that are evidence-based and effective. The organisation also runs internal education sessions so staff can better understand strategies that Speech Pathologists put in place to help residents on a day-to-day basis. 

Chief Operating Officer, Michelle Sloane, says that SummitCare is ‘committed to residents with swallowing difficulties to assess, care for and provide the support that helps them to achieve independence, makes the process of eating and drinking as comfortable and as near-normal as possible, and minimises any potential risks.’ 

“Each resident has specific care needs, their assessment and management vary based on history, other contributing conditions, signs and symptoms of dysphagia and risk factors. Our individual management of them and multidisciplinary approach and considers individual specific care needs and the resident’s individual rights to optimise nutrition, hydration and comfort by the safest possible means,” she says.


Mahananda is one of SummitCare’s Senior Speech Pathologists. He has more than 45 years’ experience in the field and post-graduate qualifications, his passion is ‘treating people in residential aged care so they are supported to get the most out of life’. 

“Swallowing is a very complex function and actually involves about 26 muscles,” Mahananda says. 

“My job is to help residents manage their swallowing through assessment, diagnosis and development of a Swallowing Management plan that might include treatment strategies like making changes in food texture or liquid consistency, teaching safe feeding techniques, making changes to posture, developing oral exercises and checking dental status.”

Swallowing problems in the elderly can be caused by many medical, neurological, surgical and behavioural conditions. But importantly, most of them can be managed safely, in many cases they are temporary situations and, with the ongoing support of Speech Pathologists, can keep them out of hospital for more serious issues.

“The best outcomes we see in our residents with swallowing difficulties is achieved through the contribution of all the SummitCare multidisciplinary team – doctors, nurses, catering staff, carers and  following the planning and professional advice of our allied health partners including our Dieticians and  Speech pathologists,” says Michelle Sloane.

“We always work as a group to help provide the best, most individualised care planning we can offer our residents.”

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How Speech Pathologists support our residents with swallowing issues