Something that people do not know about speech therapy is that us speechies help people with their swallows. As people age, or develop diseases and disorders, the muscles and sensations required for a safe swallow decline. Part of my job is to assess people's dietary textures to see if they are chewing and swallowing safely, to prevent choking and aspiration (basically food, liquid, and saliva passing the vocal folds and potentially entering the lungs and leading to pneumonia). Everyone has had that feeling of food "going down the wrong pipe". Yeah...that's the pipe to your lungs and it's scary as hell. Us strong, healthy people can usually cough it up and self regulate our swallow coordination so it doesn't happen again. The people I work with who have generalized weakness, degenerative diseases, and dementia sometimes can't. I have to help a lot with education, modifying diets, providing strengthening exercises and compensatory strategies.
The part that is especially unique for me is that I am a vegan (you're shocked, i know! it's not like i gave it away in my blog name or anything). I know that meat and animal products are TERRIBLE for stroke patients, cardiac patients, diabetics, and even for people with dementia. I will follow with separate posts detailing research behind all of these. (To learn more on your own you can check out a website called Nutritionfacts.org and enter those key words in the search bar.) But I work in the south. Southern cooking revolves around dead animals and their secretions. The beans aren't considered tasty without bacon fat and butter. The meal isn't considered complete without some sort of meat and cheese. The nutritional supplements ALL contain whey. On a daily basis, I help spoon this garbage into peoples mouths (sometimes literally), and I know it is contributing to their illnesses. I know I am making their arteries a little more clogged. Their bodies a little more toxic. I have to cut up dead flesh on peoples' plates every day, and the smell of the death wafts down the halls from the kitchen. So why do I do it? Because these are sick people who are not in my care to be preached at (I do occasionally slip in some nutrition education that vegetables, fruits, and breads DO in fact have protein, which is a misguided concern even among centenarians) I am not shy when someone asks me if I want a bite of food to tell them that I only eat plants. If a patient of mine wants help organizing a meal plan I try to encourage more veggies and less animals. But at the end of the day, it is their choice. Honestly some of my patients don't have many choices left to make for themselves, and even though I totally disagree with it, I do help them eat what they want. It's their right to choke on the food and get pneumonia if they are cognitively aware of it and want to ignore my recommendations, and it's their right to continue eating corpses too. Hopefully I can work with people in my generation and my parents generation and we can make big changes. Not only will adopting a vegan lifestyle help you stay out of a nursing home (vegans have lowest risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, cancer, etc) but it will save animals lives too!! More plants and less animals every day keeps the nursing home at bay.