But if you have a swallowing disability, the traditional roasted nuts and dried fruits of Christmas fare are a choking risk, and enjoying a festive bite at the markets could mean an emergency trip to the hospital.
Managing swallowing disability also impact on family members and home routines. Many family members change the types of foods they eat to ensure the person with swallowing disability is included. But foods on offer in restaurants, at weddings, parties, religious rituals and sporting events might not be safe to eat, and it can be awkward to take your own carefully modified foods.
The stigma of swallowing disability can lead the person and their partner, spouse, or family member to avoid embarrassment and stop going out.
“… when you can’t swallow, all that you get to think about is that you can’t swallow.”
Vital interventions for people with swallowing disability
Speech pathologists often take a lead role in teams of health professionals who provide services to people with swallowing disability. They assess the person’s swallow, make recommendations about modifying food textures, and identify ways to increase the person’s participation, inclusion, and independence at mealtimes. At the same time, they determine ways for the person with disability to communicate with family members and direct support workers about food preferences and mealtime assistance needs.
The treatment for swallowing difficulties depends on the cause. Speech pathologists can teach the person techniques to improve their oral skills, from taking the first bite to moving the food back and chewing it to swallow. They can provide advice on head and neck postures and mealtime behaviours to help prevent choking.
People with swallowing disability need more support and want better access to services to adjust to emotional, psychological and social changes as a result of their swallowing difficulties.
The NDIS has withdrawn funding for speech pathologists for people with swallowing disabilities.
Making mealtimes more inclusive
There’s a lot you can do to make your celebrations more welcoming and inclusive of people with swallowing disability and their families. Set your own table with attractive soft food options and puree foods and check if people need assistance or a quiet space to concentrate on eating.
Bronwyn Hemsley is the Head of Speech Pathology at The University of Technology Sydney and receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. She is a Certified Practicing Speech Pathologist and Fellow of Speech Pathology Australia.
Rebecca Nund receives funding from the Queensland Government Advance Queensland Women's Academic Fund.
Amy Freeman-Sanderson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Licensed as Creative Commons – attribution, no derivatives.