PARKINSON’S disease sufferer Derek Iles has paid tribute to the therapists who spotted and helped him cope with a potentially life-threatening condition that puts him at risk when he eats or drinks.

The 88-year-old Great Western Hospital patient has dysphagia, a condition that affects the ability to swallow. But he found support amongst speech and language therapists who helped improve his quality of life.

He said: “Having a meal had never been a problem until I was diagnosed with dysphagia. If I drink or swallow too quickly, I either cough or choke. It can be frightening when swallowing problems start but it’s helpful to know that there are things you can do to eat and drink safely.

“The speech and language therapists have helped me accept my condition. They taught me to slow down and take smaller bites or sips. Now, I don’t choke or cough as often. I have also been undergoing therapy for my speech, which sounds much clearer now.

“I would strongly advise others with swallowing difficulties to speak to their doctors or therapists because, although speech and language therapy doesn’t take all my problems away, I can now manage my condition better.”

The condition can affect anyone, including young people, and if not treated immediately, it can result in serious consequences such as weight loss, chest infections, depressions dehydration, and in some cases, death.

The NHS trust has a speech and language therapy team to help people recognise the symptoms and understand the importance of seeking help earlier on.

The staff use various ways to assess swallow safety such as X-ray examination or bedside assessment.

Speech and language therapist Lauren Gray explained: “When we swallow, we use 26 different muscles to ensure food or fluids are directed towards the stomach rather than into our lungs. If we cough or choke or bring food back up during a meal, it may be a sign that the mechanism isn’t functioning as it should.

“If you or someone you care for is experiencing swallowing difficulties, speak to your GP because you may need an assessment from a dysphagia trained speech and language therapist.”