Globally, for the first time, there are more people over 65 than under five years of age. Living longer can have several impacts on health and wellbeing, including dysphagia – which refers to any failure in the act of swallowing.
The condition can occur at any age but is most common with aging, affecting up to one in five community-dwelling older adults and around half of those living in aged care facilities.
A team of health professionals helps to manage dysphagia and navigate individuals through the act of safe swallowing and recovery, with speech pathologists at the helm and dietitians on board to carefully monitor a patient’s ability, progress and nutrition status.
In addition to innovations in feeding aids, other technological advancements promise to help with dysphagia treatment and management.
One targets remote treatment. The global demand for dysphagia services exceeds the number of available speech pathologists, and poses particular difficulties for people in rural areas. In line with rapid technological advancements, researchers have proposed that telerehabilitation could draw on progress in telehealth to help fill this gap.
First, more research needs to examine the feasibility and effectiveness of telerehabilitation for dysphagia diagnosis and treatment. Various practical, legal, policy and financial challenges also need to be overcome, an issue that American experts are addressing in the United States as the telehealth movement gains traction as a potentially viable option.
Testing the technology
To test the feasibility of telerehabilitation in Australia, researchers from the University of Queensland piloted adapted remote clinical swallowing examinations to assess aspiration risk and clinical management of people with dysphagia via web conferencing. They found high levels of agreement with face-to-face examinations and identified technical, personal and training factors that will help facilitate this form of clinical management.
Overall, they concluded, “The current evidence provides a strong initial evidence base for supporting the use of telerehabilitation in the management of patients with dysphagia. This work will be integral in the process of establishing new models for dysphagia services, designed to enhance access to speech pathology services for more patients in the future.”
In this report The Future of Dysphagia we outline the problem, evolving solutions and technological advancements in the area.