NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (Oct. 7, 2013) – Swallowing is something most people don’t even think about despite the fact that we swallow approximately 600 times a day. Imagine experiencing pain or difficulty each of those 600 times that you swallow -- whether it is to eat breakfast, drink a sip of water or simply to clear your throat. This is what people who live with the swallowing disorder dysphagia experience on a daily basis.

According to The American Speech and Hearing Association, approximately ten million people are evaluated for dysphagia annually, and it is estimated that up to 22 percent of people over the age of 50 are living with some type of swallowing disorder. In Hartford County alone, that number represents over 68,000 people who could benefit from swallowing services.

Responding to this need, Hospital for Special Care (HSC) is opening a Swallowing Disorders Center to offer comprehensive evaluation and treatment for patients experiencing dysphagia.

“Swallowing is a complex process, and many different muscles and nerves are needed to coordinate the act of swallowing food, liquids and medications,” said Lisa Newton, M.S.N, R,N., B.C., vice president of Patient Care Services & Chief Nursing Officer, HSC. “It’s important to see a speech pathologist who has expertise in swallowing disorders to assess symptoms, determine the cause of difficulty and offer treatment and education to address the problem.”

Jeffrey A. Asher, executive director at the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority said, “CHEFA is proud to provide grant funding to support the Swallowing Disorders Center. Connecticut continues to have some of the best healthcare services and innovation in the nation, and we are excited by the quality of life improvements that this center will help provide its patients.”

Diagnostic tools at the Swallowing Disorders Center include the Modified Barium Swallow, a specialized video x-ray study which allows the anatomy and entire swallowing process to be reviewed, as well as a Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing, which is a small fiberoptic camera that is placed through the nose to assess the swallowing function.

Newton added that HSC staff is trained in different strengthening strategies and respiratory retraining programs to strengthen expiratory and tongue muscles as well as increase lung volumes to improve swallowing, speech and voice. The staff also will assist with referrals to other specialists such as Ear, Nose and Throat or GI physicians.

“Our goal is to become a regional multidisciplinary swallowing center that will allow for easy transition and collaboration between physicians, facilities and therapists in the community,” Newton said. “This will provide for better communication with patients as well as minimize repetitive visits for test results.”

People can experience dysphagia due to stroke, spinal cord injury, acquired-brain injury, head or neck cancer or surgery, degenerative neurological disorders, thoracic surgeries, heartburn or reflux, inflammatory myopathies, aging and more. Serious complications from swallowing difficulty can include malnutrition and weight loss, dehydration, aspiration pneumonia and an overall decreased quality of life.

CHEFA is a quasi-public agency created by the Connecticut State Legislature to help Connecticut healthcare and educational institutions and other not-for-profit entities obtain tax-exempt financing. CHEFA is self-sustaining and receives no taxpayer funds. For more information about CHEFA, visit www.chefa.com.

For more information on the Swallowing Disorders Center, please call 860.827.1958 ext. 3040, or visit www.hfsc.org.