Students give a voice to people with swallowing difficulties

It was a case of you can have your cake, ­­but you have to eat it without using your tongue, lips or teeth, for Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) students.

The first years organised a day of fun activities in the Campus Centre at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) to raise awareness of the daily struggles faced by people with swallowing difficulties.

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They also sold cakes and two of the students lived on a modified diet for a week, all in aid of the Stroke Association.

Ellis Becks was among the organisers. She said: "As a cohort, we thought it would be good to raise awareness of swallowing issues as it's quite an unfamiliar thing.

"Most people know a little about conditions such as strokes, dementia and learning disabilities, but not everyone knows about issues that come hand in hand with those, such as difficulty chewing food or swallowing it."

Eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties - known as dysphagia - can have potentially life-threatening consequences. They can result in choking, pneumonia, chest infections, dehydration and weight loss. They can also make taking medication more difficult and can lead to a poorer quality of life for the individual and their family.

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As future speech and language therapists, the students will play a role in supporting adults who have dysphagia. These include helping people regain their swallowing through exercises, techniques and positioning and promoting patient safety through modifying the texture of food and fluids.

Kettering-born Ellis said: "We set up a stall where, throughout the day, we sold cakes and gave people information on swallowing issues.

"We also had a little game where you could try eating a piece of cake without moving your mouth or lips, and we had a range of liquids that had been thickened, just like the diet of someone with swallowing issues.

"We asked people whether they wanted to try the thickened liquids and most didn't, which is good really. People have heard of blending foods down but not really thickening liquids up."

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In addition to raising awareness of dysphagia, the team also netted around £180 for charity.

"Swallowing isn't something most people think about. Visitors to the stall seemed interested even if they didn't want to buy a cake," added Ellis, whose ambition is to find a job where she is helping people and making a difference to their lives.

Ella Peace and Stephanie Hancock raised an additional £280 for the Stroke Association by living on a modified diet of blended food and thickened liquids for a week.

"I found it really eye opening, in that I never thought it would be as difficult as I actually found it," said Ella. "I thickened all my drinks as well throughout the week and that was the hardest part. By the end of the week I just wanted a nice glass of normal water."

Posted on Tuesday 24th April 2018

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