As we make our way through April and start to readjust our body clocks, we should take the time to recognise that this new month comes “April falls.” A campaign aimed to recognise and attempt to reduce harm from falls for the month of April. The theme for this year’s campaign is “live stronger for longer” . I know what you might be thinking… what on earth does speech-language therapy have to do with falls and fall prevention?? Well you’d be surprised with the areas us speechies manage to be of use.
Prevelance of falls
Falls are common in the elderly population and can be caused by a variety of physical and environmental factors. “In 2015, 217,000 people aged 50 and over had one or more ACC claims accepted for a fall-related injury. This was a significant increase from 170,000 claims in 2011” (Health Quality & Safety Commission of New Zealand, 2018). Falls can significantly impair mobility, quality of life, and even lead to death (2018).
Of the many influencing factors that can contribute to falls, dehydration is one that can often take centre stage. Dehydration can cause confusion and loss of balance which leads to an increased falls risk (Stanga Z., Baldinger S.H., Clavé P., 2011). Ahh, there it is the connection between falls and dysphagia… DEHYDRATION.
Dehydration & Dysphagia
It’s a nasty condition, which carries with it a myriad of side effects. Dehydration can be caused by many things, one of which is dysphagia. It is well documented that people who suffer from dysphagia are at increased risk of dehydration. This is often due to reduced intake of liquids which can be caused by discomfort and effort when drinking, fear of aspiration, but particularly pertinent to those who require modified liquids, or ‘thickened liquids’.
You were used to guzzling down a nice crispy cold glass of juice on a warm summer day, the pleasure and joy associated with that is priceless. Then imagine one day being told that now you can only sip slowly on a drink that is thickened. Imagine how that might affect the pleasure and satisfaction previously associated with drinking. You can understand how this might cause you to stop drinking as much. Dysphagia and particularly its relation to liquid modification can have a large impact on the intake of liquids which can then contribute to chronic dehydration, which we now know can lead to falls.
Do you or a loved one have dysphagia?
Do you find that your liquid intake is reduced? And if so why? Because of the increased effort? Or maybe the dislike of thickening products? In any case, dysphagia and dehydration is a nasty combination which as you now know can also contribute to an increased falls risk.
It is always a good idea to consult your Dietitian or GP if you are concerned about potential dehydration so that it can be supported early on and hopefully help prevent falls along the way.
Health Quality & Safety Commission of New Zealand (2018). Retrieved from https://www.hqsc.govt.nz/our-programmes/reducing-harm-from-falls/april-falls/
Stanga Z., Baldinger S.H., Clavé P. (2011) Dehydration in Dysphagia. In: Ekberg O. (eds) Dysphagia. Medical Radiology. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg
Julie AY Cichero (2013) Thickening agents used for dysphagia management: effect on bioavailability of water, medication and feelings of satiety. Nutrition Journal 12: 54.