The role of speech pathology in pulmonary rehab

25/Aug/2021     Health

For people with chronic respiratory diseases, pulmonary rehabilitation is an important part of recovery especially for those who remain symptomatic or continue to have decreased function despite medical treatment.

Many long-term research studies have confirmed pulmonary rehabilitation to be the most effective method of rehabilitating patients and is an effective tool their recovery.  

Pulmonary rehabilitation programs have been proven to improve patient’s functional capacity, reduce shortness of breath, increase exercise tolerance and promote an overall sense of wellbeing while reducing risk of re-hospitalisation.

While commonly run by physiotherapists Mater takes a multidisciplinary approach to their eight-week pulmonary rehabilitation program which incorporates other allied health practitioners.

An important component of this is speech pathology as patients with respiratory-related disease can experience acute or chronic swallowing problems.

Speech Pathology Team Lead Lucy Lyons said swallow fatigue, impaired breath swallow synchrony, reduced laryngeal sensation, accompanying reflux, and compromised oral hygiene are all symptoms of chronic pulmonary disease.

“These put patients at greater risk of impaired swallow function. In turn, swallow decompensation can lead to reduced airway protection and increased risk of aspiration and severe pulmonary complications,” Lucy said.  

“Patients are often prescribed a texture modified diet and given safe swallow strategies to prevent aspiration but may have a poor understanding of the reason why their respiratory function impacts upon swallow and subsequently have reduced compliance with recommendations.

“The speech pathology department at the Mater Hospital Brisbane trialled the introduction of a module to educate this outpatient cohort on the relationship between chronic pulmonary disease and swallow/reflux/voice/oral health.”

Lucy explains the module was delivered alongside education provided within a pre-existing interdisciplinary program run by the physiotherapy department and included other health professionals.

“Patients who have attended the group to date were surveyed regarding their experiences. Feedback from patients was overwhelmingly positive and illustrates the benefits of them,” Lucy said.  

“They reported having increased understanding of oral health, swallowing and reflux and how to manage their condition.”

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