How Does Speech Therapy Help With Swallowing?

Speech TherapySomething as simple as swallowing is more complex than you might think. More than 20 muscles work together as you swallow foods or beverages, and they work in conjunction with messages sent by your brain. The communications between your muscles, nerves, and brain stem make sure food goes down the correct path and doesn’t end up in the lungs.

After a stroke, the pathways between the brain and the muscles and nerves are impacted. It’s why the risk of aspiration pneumonia is so great. It’s also why speech therapy is so important.

The Muscles Used When You Swallow

In the oral phase of swallowing, a person chews food using teeth and the muscles of the jaw and tongue. The tongue pushes food against the soft palate and into the oropharynx. Nerves in the oropharynx send a message to the brain that food is there and the brain sends signals to open the esophagus to allow food to pass.

As food enters the esophagus, the impulse to breathe is paused and the epiglottis blocks the upper airway to keep food from entering the airway. If it does accidentally make it into the airway, the brain sends a message to cough. Involuntary muscle contractions keep moving the food through the esophagus toward the stomach.

Once it’s at the opening to the stomach, the cardiac orifice opens and allows the food into the stomach. It then closes again to prevent acid reflux.

What Does a Speech Therapist Do?

That’s what happens when you swallow. After a stroke, this process is often complicated by a loss of communication between the brain and the muscles in your mouth and throat. How will a speech therapist help?

One of the first things a speech therapist works on are exercises to help strengthen muscle strength. As funny as it may seem, something as simple as sticking out the tongue helps strengthen the muscles.

Thrusting the tongue in different directions is one of the first things your dad will do. He’ll also strengthen muscles through swallowing exercises and by working on getting his tongue and lips to work in coordination.

Regaining muscle control is part of the process, but he also needs to change some of his former habits. Cutting foods into smaller pieces is important. Adding thickening agents to make liquids easier to swallow is also something speech therapists will do. He needs to learn to slow down and carefully chew his food items.

Your dad’s speech therapist will help him work on proper posture. Instead of hunching while he eats, he needs to learn to sit straight and make sure his chin and throat are aligned properly.

Your dad had a stroke. It’s very likely that his medical team already includes a speech therapist, but make sure that the help he’s getting continues at home. Ask about speech therapy at home to ensure he continues to work with an expert in regaining muscle control after a stroke.

If you or an aging loved one are considering hiring speech therapy in Media, PA, and the surrounding area, please contact the friendly staff at Suma Home Care. (484) 206-4544

Ibrahim & Mariama Suma-Keita