We interviewed Katie Prendergast about her career as a Speech Pathologist and how she took the unique opportunity to help those with swallowing difficulties.
You have unique and specialised skills in the area of dysphagia. Where did you refine these?
After university I began working in the acute stroke and rehabilitation units at a large hospital. I saw many, many people with dysphagia of varying degrees of severity and this helped me to gain some incredibly focused experience. I also worked in other hospitals helping adults with swallowing difficulties caused by damage or diseases such as stroke, parkinson’s disease, cancer, motor neurone disease and dementia to name a few. My experience has provided me with a great deal of insight into the different ways in which people manage their dysphagia; from the time they enter hospital in a critical condition, to the time they improve, leave hospital and perhaps return for visits as an outpatient. I also learned how ingenious people can be when it comes to experimenting with modified diets at home!
Your website, safeswallowing.com.au is a great resource and you have a great story behind the reason you moved into this area. Can you share something about that?
My grandmother had developed an age related swallowing difficulty that she had been hiding for some time. She rarely drank in front of family and after talking to her about it, I discovered she had been coughing and choking on her drinks. Her solution for managing it was to reduce her intake of liquids, and thereby risk dehydration! I assessed her swallow and found that she required thickened drinks so I went looking to purchase some. I thought it would be a relatively easy process, although at that time, I had taken some time off from speech pathology and I didn’t know of any specific suppliers who could help me. I thought the easiest place to start would be with a search on the internet. However, I was not happy with what I found. There was a very restricted range of products offered by a limited number of suppliers, none of whom specialised in dysphagia, and the prices were high! If I knew exactly what I was looking for and I was still having having difficulty finding thickening products, then it was likely that other people with less experience would find it even more difficult. There had to be a quicker way to find information and products so I established Safe Swallowing to provide just that.
Along with the thickened fluids, your site offers modified utensils. What are the benefits?
Modified meal utensils are specially designed to increase a person’s ability to eat and drink safely and be more independent at meal times. Someone might have a specific issue which makes eating, drinking or swallowing more difficult and/or unsafe such as: hand tremors, reduced hand/ finger coordination or strength, paralysis in one hand, increased risk of cough or choke on liquids, strong bite reflex, tendency to spill liquids and so on. Modified utensils are available in a range of cups, plates, cutlery and place mats; as well as items that improve the functionality of existing meal utensils, e.g. foam grips that make holding and using regular cutlery much easier for people with reduced finger and hand control. Examples of modified utensils include: modified cups that are shaped to enable a person to drink without having to tilt their head back (thereby reducing the risk of drinks going the wrong way), and modified plates that make it easier for people to scoop food onto a fork or spoon when eating with one hand.
Do you have any tips for the Christmas party season
It is the festive party season and wine, beer and soft drinks are likely to be flowing at family gatherings. A swallowing difficulty is no longer a good reason for someone to miss out on their favourite beverage. On the Safe Swallowing website, visitors can find official instructions for thickening beer, wine and fizzy drinks to each of the three recommended thicknesses. All are free to view. The instructions have been tested and provided by some of the manufacturers of thickening powders and they can be viewed here
Have a wonderful festive season!