With World Pneumonia day coming up on the 12th November 2015, I thought I would shed some light on what Aspiration Pneumonia is and the effect it has on individuals with different diagnoses. Pneumonia itself is a lung infection caused by bacteria or viruses.
Aspiration Pneumonia refers to when the infection is caused by food or fluid, such as drinks, water, saliva or vomit, that are aspirated or taken into the lungs.
This tends to happen when an individual is swallowing and they have poor swallow coordination. The structures in their neck do not move fast enough to cover over the pipe that leads down into their lungs during their swallow. Therefore, instead of the food going down into their stomach, it goes into their lungs, bacteria then grows due to these deposits in the lungs and an infection occurs.
This is increasingly common in elderly individuals, particularly those who suffer from neurological disorders such as Motor Neurone Disease, Dementia or Parkinson’s disease. Each diagnosis has its own reasoning as to why there are higher incidences of Dysphagia or swallowing difficulties. For some individuals, it is because they are unable to monitor how much fluid or food they are taking in and consume food and fluids at a rate that is too fast for them to handle, or for others it may just be decreasing ability to coordinate the muscles involved in swallowing due to the disorder itself.
It is important for these individuals to be placed on the correct diet or swallowing strategies to ensure they are not at risk of developing aspiration pneumonia. This may involve modifying the consistency of their food or fluid. For those that have laboured motor movements, having a softer diet can assist with the time required to chew food during meals for example. Those that are unable to handle thin fluids such as water may require thickening of these fluids, which allows the fluid to move slower, giving the individual more time to coordinate the muscles for swallowing.
Every individual presents differently and a thorough swallowing assessment should be done to determine what diet is safe for them to be on which should also accounting for quality of life factors such as meal satisfaction.
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This article was written by our Speech Pathologist Ashleigh Fattah who is a Speech Pathology Australia member. If you have speech pathology related questions, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with simple and effective therapy targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.