SafeStraw Might Help You Swallow Through Thick and Thin

Written by Mary Spremulli, MA, CCC-SLP
Ventilator-Assisted Living Vol. 28, No.5 October 2014

Aspiration, food, or liquid getting misdirected into the airway can be a source of aspiration pneumonia, and result in a hospitalization and recommendation for altering the diet, which often includes thickening liquids.

Thickened liquids, no matter what formula to get there, are often enjoyed by patients, and many individuals, once out of the hospital or rehab, do not adhere to the recommendation to drink thickened liquids, and resume thin liquids on their own.

The ability to resume thin liquids once recovered from an aspiration pneumonia may be a very doable goal for people who are mobile, have a strong and effective cough, and are generally in a good state of health, despite a diagnosis they might have Parkinson’s or other neurological disorder.

But for others, who are wheelchair-or bed-bound, need to be fed by someone else, and have a weak voice and weak cough, their risk for another aspiration pneumonia is greater. “But it’s only water,” the patient or caregiver might say. True, small amounts of water getting misdirected into the airway will probably be of minor consequence to the lungs, but bacteria that resides in the mouth gets carried along with the water, and its often the oral bacteria that finds its way into the lungs that contributes to infection.

Controlling the amount of liquid that is swallowed can sometimes make a big difference in swallowing safety, and the different between thin or thick liquids.

The “small sip” that might be recommended by the swallowing therapist, can be hard to judge by the patient. So, enter, the Bionix SafeStraw™.

The SafeStraw™ is a clever little invention that controls the amount of liquid that can be taken at a time. A regular straw is placed in a chamber of liquid. One teaspoon of liquid is drawn up the straw, and the float in the host chamber floats back to the bottom, creating a nice little “pause”, as you prepare for your next sip.

Straws have often been on the list of things not to use when drinking, but, with the volume controlled, the SafeStraw™ might be the perfect way for many people to keep drinking liquids safely. For people who tend to “hold” food or liquid in their mouth or can’t quite coordinate the tongue to give the push it needs to the liquid, a sip through SafeStraw™ might be a great solution for “getting started” with the swallow.

The SafeStraw™ chamber is available for thin or nectar thick liquids, and is reusable for a single person. Having used it recently with a few patients, I would judge this a worthwhile investment. Ask your speech/swallowing therapist for more information or visit the company website. https://www.bionix.com/medicaltech/product/safestraw/.

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