# Dysphagia Awareness Month

Why do we Need a Dysphagia Awareness Month?

by Karen Sheffler, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S of SwallowStudy.com (June 2015)

May was the American Speech and Hearing Association’s Better Hearing and Speech Month (#BHSM, @AHSAweb on Twitter and ASHA on Facebook). See my Better Hearing and Speech Month blog from 2014.

In May 2015 there were 1,076 tweets under the hashtag #BHSM! Yes, I counted them. All great resources. Way to go Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists (SLP)! We rock!

Better Hearing & Speech Month logo, by American Speech & Hearing Association (ASHA)

Of course, given that May is clearly named “hearing & speech month,” none of these tweets mentioned an SLP’s impact with people who have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). As noted by Dr Ianessa Humbert in her blog on DysphagiaCafe.com (and per ASHA’s 2007 & 2011 SLP Health Care Surveys), SLPs working in healthcare “spend the majority of their time addressing swallowing disorders.”  

The broad SLP fields of swallowing & swallowing disorders and feeding & feeding disorders get forgotten in these May promotions.

Fortunately, a swallowing lab in Canada did not forget…

Swallowing Rehabilitation Research Lab
Click on picture to check out their website.

Dr Catriona Steele’s Swallowing Rehabilitation Research Lab in Toronto promoted swallowing awareness during May’s Better Hearing & Speech Month!

Dr Catriona Steele, PhD, SLP (C), CCC-SLP, BCS-S, ASHA Fellow
Dr Catriona Steele, PhD, SLP (C), CCC-SLP, BCS-S, CASLPO,ASHA Fellow                                          CHEERS!

On May 27, 2015, they set up a lemonade stand, and you guessed it — the lemonade was thickened! The stand could not be missed by staff, patients and the public. It was set up in the Innovations Gallery on the ground floor of the UHN Toronto Rehabilitation Institute  (See also the UHN Research Facebook page).

Steele's Swallowing Rehabilitation Research Laboratory & Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, University Health Network
Steele’s Swallowing Rehabilitation Research Laboratory & Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, University Health Network

Catriona Steele challenged the Institute’s executives (the Director and the Senior Clinical Director), as well as other staff, patients and the public to do a #thickenedliquidchallenge. Many of you are followed #thickenedliquidchallenge on Twitter already. But this was more than just a #thickenedliquidchallenge; it was a swallowing and dysphagia awareness challenge. They raised awareness of swallowing disorders and shared the lab’s prolific research.  

Steele’s swallowing lab shared the following statistics:

  • 1 in 2 adults will encounter swallowing challenges in themselves or a loved one.
  • Swallowing disorders (dysphagia) are 10 times more common than epilepsy.
  • Swallowing disorders are more common than diabetes.

SLPs from Toronto Rehab Institute
SLPs from Toronto Rehab Institute


Well, it is a good thing the rest of us now have JUNE to continue to promote Dysphagia Awareness.

I never realized that June was made National Dysphagia Awareness Month until I read it on the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders (NFOSD) website. On September 27, 2008, Congress actually passed a bipartisan statute and made June National Dysphagia Awareness month!

Tweet your stories and resources in June using hashtag: #DysphagiaAwareness.

To see more information on the 2015 National Dysphagia Awareness month, go to the NFOSD website links below. We need to “advance the treatment of swallowing disorders in our lifetime,” as NFOSD’s slogan so perfectly states.



Follow on Twitter @NFOSD and Facebook @NFOSD.


The Dysphagia Research Society (DRS) has long been promoting dysphagia awareness by encouraging interdisciplinary (transdisciplinary) research and sharing knowledge to globally advance the science of swallowing.

DRS logo
Click on picture to go to www.DysphagiaResearch.org

DRS shared the following statistics at their 23rd Annual Meeting, March, 2015, Chicago, IL:

  • 600,000 people die each year from complications related to swallowing disorders; more than liver disease, kidney disease and HIV combined. Similar to that of diabetes.

  • Dysphagia is not a disease in and of itself. It is a symptom. Diseases, disorders and problems across many of the body’s systems can cause dysphagia.

  • Dysphagia occurs approximately 90% of the time in patients with Parkinson’s and ALS.

The DRS 2014-2015 President, Kulwinder S. Dua, MD, DMSc, FRCP, FACP, FASGE, encouraged a multidisciplinary approach to address dysphagia. If there is no cross-talk, per Dr Dua, we are working in isolation, and that is a disaster. As a gastroenterologist, Dr Dua pointed out: “What is the point in opening up the esophagus if the pump [the oropharyngeal propulsive phase] is not working?” This is but one example of the need for multiple disciplines to work together to help our patients.

Follow DRS on Twitter @Official_DRS and Facebook.com/DysphagiaResearchSociety 


Summary: Why Raise Dysphagia Awareness?

Early identification of a swallowing disorder is crucial to prevent adverse outcomes, like: pneumonia, dehydration and malnutrition. This is especially true in cases of head and neck cancer. See my previous blog on HPV.

In the adult population alone, Bhattacharyya (2014) estimated 9.44 million adults (plus/minus 0.33 million) have a swallowing disorder. He analyzed the 2012 National Health Interview Survey and concluded that “swallowing problems affect 1 in 25 adults, annually.” These numbers are based on a survey, so the actual prevalence may be much higher.

Read more (patient handout): How do I know I need a swallow study?

Bhattacharyya discovered that only 23% of these adults pursued professional help for their swallowing problem, even though 24.8% reported it to be a moderate problem and 31.7% described it as a big problem and many had days off of work due to the swallowing problem. What about the changes in quality of life?

Read more (patient handout): How is my swallowing evaluated?

So May reminds us to gear up for #DysphagiaAwareness in JUNE!

Cheers to that!

Thank you for reading and sharing!

Please see the SwallowStudy.com menu above to find other helpful clinician resources, links and product reviews. Under “clinician links,” you can connect directly with the top dysphagia websites. For example, ASHA’s SIG 13 (Special Interest Group for Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders) and American Board of Swalowing and Swallowing Disorders (AB-SSD, who have the credentialing program to become a Board Certified Specialist in Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders – BCS-S).


See website links above.


Bhattacharyya, N. (2014). The prevalence of dysphagia among adults in the United States. Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, 151 (5), 765-769. http://oto.sagepub.com/content/151/5/765.abstract

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