In life, there are few absolutes because every person and situation is different. It is an absolute that nutrition and hydration are a must for sustaining life; however, we are not all made from the same mold. There is no "cookie cutter" solution to what the definition of comfort and quality of life are. As you learned, aspiration is when food or drink enter the trachea where you channel breathing instead of the esophagus (the channel to the stomach).
It is truth that in some individuals, chronic aspiration or aspiration of large amounts of gastric contents and other noxious substances can lead to pneumonia or even respiratory failure. However, research has shown that most people who have difficulty swallowing from neurological conditions such as stroke or dementia like Alzheimer's Disease do not automatically acquire pneumonia. All people to some degree get "strangled" or cough when something "goes down the wrong way." This description is indeed aspiration, but does not immediately lead to pneumonia.
A pattern of aspiration can lead to poor nutrition and can make eating and drinking less than fun. Poor hydration can lead to urinary tract infections. Being unable to take necessary medications because they are difficult to swallow can make medical conditions worse.
The bottom line is that aspiration can lead to nasty conditions the weaker and more dependent a person is, especially those who have poor oral hygiene, are unable to feed themselves, have serious respiratory compromise, are unable to move around easily and may be bed ridden.
A common sense approach to swallowing management is where Sutton and Churchill's energies are focused. We care about the whole patient, and finding out what the patient's wishes are for quality of life. Prevention is ideal, but sometime it's not realistic. Sometimes aggressive therapy is the answer, and sometimes advocating for quality of life is best. No person is the same as another. We have the expertise to know what the safest and most efficient means of getting food and drink in the body is, and we have many years of training and experience to know when the balance of getting better needs to be adjusted to meet the patient's specific needs.
With Sutton and Churchill, you get a quality assessment with appropriate treatment recommendations and interventions that make sense and can be easily applied to help your team, your patient, your loved one, or yourself achieve the outcomes that you need for optimal quality of life. With our service, there will be no question about how aspiration or swallowing difficulty affects the patient's potential to improve, and there will be an unparalleled team approach minimizing aspiration and optimizing comfort and satisfaction.