July 13th, 2010 at 2:11 am
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Swallow Safely: Timely Book for Elders and Caregivers

by Carol Bursack

Questions from readers often center on the fact that Mom or Dad has stopped eating or has issues with swallowing. Each case is, of course, individual, so all I can do is suggest that people work more closely with the doctor to find the reason for this disturbing occurrence with their loved one.

Sometimes, people’s bodies are shutting down during the death process, therefore that person’s body no longer needs food and food will be rejected. Often, however, the problem is about difficulties with swallowing brought on by a specific illness.

I recently received a complimentary copy of a very helpful book that will give me, a non-medical person, a valuable tool to reference when I receive these questions about swallowing. Titled Swallow Safely: How swallowing Problems Threaten the Elderly and Others, this book, written by Roya Sayadi, Ph.D., CCC-SLP and her husband, Joel Herskowitz, M.D., is a find.

The Benefits of Swallow Safely

Swallow Safely has a section on the physical process of swallowing that amazed me. Who (besides medical people and biologists) knew swallowing was so complex? Obviously, I should have paid more attention in science class.

Swallow Safely is written by doctors, but most of us like plain language. These authors provide us with both medical terms and layman’s language. They also have special tips for those of us caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke and other diseases that can cause specific swallowing problems.

One suggestion the authors give, under “Getting Help,” suggests that people with swallowing problems see a speech and language pathologist. Kathryn Kilpatrick, one of our writers and bloggers on Eldercarelink.com, is a speech and language pathologist who can provide clients with swallowing problems, and their caregivers, swallowing guidelines and menu modification recommendations. When I checked with Kathryn, she affirmed this suggestion made by the book’s authors.

Of course, the authors let you know that you need to check with medical people if you are coping with swallowing concerns. However, I was fascinated by information that could help any of us with a potentially life threatening experience. I have often had food or beverages go down the wrong side (tube, pipe or other euphemism) when engaged in an animated discussion while dining, or even just having a sip of water. Coughing, watering eyes, runny nose and other uncomfortable things can occur while friends anxiously look on. Now, after reading the chapter titled, “Mindful Swallowing,” I will try to be more, um, mindful, when I swallow. No promises, as we all need to have fun.

Swallow Safely has changed my casual mindset about swallowing as something we who don’t have major health issues just don’t bother thinking about. Medications can add to problems when swallowing. I’ve been known to (stupidly) swallow several vitamin tablets and capsules in one gulp. Yes, I’ve had a time or two when they’ve “stuck” midway down. That should have been enough to scare me, but it wasn’t. Since reading this book, I’m trying to break myself of that careless habit.

Swallow Safely is a book for everyone. However, if you are a caregiver, it’s a must read. The book can be found on Amazon.com or purchased from www.SwallowSafely.com.

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