What is Dysphagia?
Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing. It is when people have trouble moving food, liquid, pills or even saliva out of the mouth, through the throat and esophagus (food tube), and into the stomach.
Resources We Offer
Stay up-to-date in the field of swallowing and swallowing disorders (dysphagia). Read, comment and ask questions on my latest collection of hot topics.
Dysphagia Management: From Evidence to ImplementationDysphagia Management: From Evidence to Implementation By Phyllis M Palmer, PhD, CCC-SLP & Aaron H Padilla, MS,...
COVID-19 Pandemic and Dysphagia Management OutcomesCOVID-19 Pandemic and Dysphagia Management Outcomes by Karen Sheffler, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S of SwallowStudycom It...
5 Dysphagia Tips for Students & New Speech-Language PathologistsDysphagia Tips for Students & New Speech-Language Pathologists by Karen Sheffler, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S of...
Find out more on dysphagia, swallow studies, and more with this compilation of educational information for all.View More
Central place to guide clinicians through the online dysphagia world and provide useful resources to enhance patient care.View More
Expert-opinions on a wide range of dysphagia products and resources for people with difficulty swallowing and their caregivers.View More
About Karen Sheffler, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-SDownload CV
I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1995 with a master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology. There, I was influenced by great mentors in the field of swallowing and swallowing disorders (dysphagia) like Jay Rosenbek, JoAnne Robbins, and James Coyle. Once the “dysphagia-bug” bit, I have never looked back.
Initially, I worked in skilled nursing facilities and rehabilitation centers, but since 1999 I have been in acute care. I obtained my Board Certification as a Specialist in Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (BCS-S) in August of 2012. I am committed to life-long-learning. I was awarded my 8th ASHA Award for Continuing Education (ACE Award) in January 2022. I am committed to increasing public awareness in dysphagia. I am a member of the Dysphagia Research Society (DRS), the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s Special Interest Group 13: Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders, and the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders (NFOSD), and the US IDDSI Reference Group (USIRG). I am co-chair of the Public Relations Committee of the American Board of Swallowing & Swallowing Disorders. I was awarded the Hormel Health Hero Award in 2019.
I started SwallowStudy.com in May 2014 to create a valuable evidence-based dysphagia resource for professionals and people with difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).
Tips for Managing Dysphagia at Home During the Holidays
SwallowStudy.com and Hormel Health Labs teamed up to provide help and support for those who struggle with difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). We also collaborated with the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders (NFOSD) and IDDSI! These are a great resources for the holidays or for any gathering.
- Check out this article: Tips for Managing Dysphagia at Home During the Holidays
- Hormel Health Labs provides recipe ideas too: Click Here
- IDDSI.org and the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders presented a webinar December 2, 2021 called: Celebrating the Holidays with Dysphagia. See the full webinar on IDDSI’s YouTube Chanel here.
- That talk by the dietitian Laura Michaels provided these two terrific handouts:
Dysphagia Outreach Project
Karen met Hillary Cooper, MA, CCC-SLP (co-founder of Dysphagia Research Project) at ASHA2021. That started SwallowStudy.com’s sponsorship of The Dysphagia Research Project.
They are an incredible 100% volunteer-run organization that is dedicated to providing assistance to individuals and families with swallowing disorders across the lifespan. You can apply for assistance from their food bank today.
To provide a donation of any amount to support people who struggle daily with food insecurity in addition to dysphagia, click here.
Webinar Recording Now Available! More than Oral Care – Let’s Talk Oral Infection Control
Download FREE webinar: https://swallowingdisorderfoundation.com/webinar-oral-care/ on Oral Infection Control.
Reframing Documentation with a Person-Centered Approach
WEBINAR: Karen Sheffler and Yvette McCoy are two board certified specialists in swallowing and swallowing disorders who have created this in depth look at how to perform good documentation that is person-centered and targeted to the individual. (November, 2021)
Go to Karen’s homepage on Medbridge Education here learn more: https://www.medbridgeeducation.com/a/karen-sheffler-swallow-study
When you sign up for the course through this link, you will receive a discount on your purchase while supporting our work! Thank you!
Giving Back to Graduate School Students
Educators and students have endured extreme challenges during this COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you to Dr. Jamie Fisher, PhD, CCC-SLP, from Western Kentucky University, for inviting me to share tips and resources during her medical speech-language pathology course. Read more and hear from these resilient graduate school students in this blog.
ASHA COVID-19 Updates / Telepractice
Speech-Language Pathologists and related healthcare providers can stay on top of COVID-19 recommendations by the American Speech-Language & Hearing Association’s (ASHA) by visiting the www.ASHA.org website often. This is a quickly changing pandemic and crisis.
JUNE is National Dysphagia Awareness Month
June is National Dysphagia Awareness Month in the United States! Check out Karen’s posts on her Twitter and Facebook pages (@SwallowStudySLP). Read more about Dysphagia Awareness Month here.
In 2019, she posted over 70 times to raise awareness during the month of June.
In 2020, follow Karen’s posts @BCSSwallowing on Facebook & Twitter. (Karen is co-chair of the public relations committee for the American Board of Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders/ABSSD). The ABSSD did a “Caring for Caregivers” Series (see infographic gallery here) with infographics honoring caregivers across the lifespan! Additionally, follow hashtags: #DysphagiaAwareness and #Dysphagia across social media every June.
Read more about #dysphagia with this article on RightAtHome.net, written after interviewing Karen Sheffler (in 2019): https://www.rightathome.net/blog/dysphagia-difficulty-swallowing-in-older-adults
United States IDDSI Reference Group (USIRG)
The United States IDDSI Reference Group (USIRG) has been hard at work since 2020. IDDSI is the International Dysphagia Diet Standardization Initiative — a global wave to standardize dysphagia diets for the safety of people with dysphagia. I have been blogging about IDDSI since 2014, and now I am actively creating resources to foster the implementation of the IDDSI framework around the world. I am a member of the Resources & Best Practice and the Implementation & Advocacy work groups.
See our reference group’s chart of resources that we created and add to often: https://iddsi.org/United-States
Join the excitement! The world has reached a consensus on how to label, describe/define, and test dysphagia diets. It has been truly inspiring being at a meeting with people from around the world (over 30 different countries) who are forming reference groups to launch IDDSI in their countries. IDDSI provides increased safety for people across all ages, in all care settings (home to hospital to rehabilitation center), and across all cultures. We are all now speaking the same language and can avoid the errors of the past with vague diet labels and descriptions!
Don’t take my word for it only. Check out this video where people recorded “Why I IDDSI!” This was presented at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo, 2021.
IDDSI / USIRG booth at ASHA2021!
There just had to be an IDDSI booth at our first in-person ASHA convention since the start of the pandemic. I organized this booth along with my fellow USIRG members.
ASHA is the American Speech-Language & Hearing Association, and typically a convention will draw over 15,000 speech-language pathologists. There were over 5,000 in-person and over 5,000 virtual attendees.
ASHA has been a long-time supporter of IDDSI, and we are so grateful that ASHA provided us this booth for free in the exhibit hall! We had a blast sharing IDDSI with students, clinicians, professors, and industry. All left with IDDSI posters, IDDSI Flow Test Cards, IDDSI Food Test Cards, and IDDSI approved 10ml syringes for the IDDSI Flow Test (donated by BD!).
Follow @IDDSI on Instagram to see more photos! Thank you!
Podcast with Fox Rehab (5/1/19)
Dysphagia Research Society (DRS) annual conference May 2019
Karen attended the Dysphagia Research Society’s (DRS) annual conference March 6-9, 2019. In spring 2020, she completed her 2 year term on the DRS Website, Communications, and Public Relations Committee, which assisted with fundraising and social media promotion for the event. This global conference drew people to San Diego, CA from 24 different countries. Karen had thousands of people following her 85+ live tweets, helping to connect the global dysphagia community of clinicians and researchers. Karen has also been promoting the International Dysphagia Diet Standardization Initiative (www.IDDSI.org) for years, and she is seen here at the IDDSI booth at the 2019 DRS conference with the IDDSI co-chair, Peter Lam. RD, CFE.
Karen attended the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Karen attended the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ (AND) Food and Nutrition Conference Expo (#FNCE17) for the first time. This was a great opportunity for interdisciplinary networking. Karen presented at the Hormel booth to raise awareness about the International Dysphagia Diet Standardization Initiative (IDDSI). Karen (middle) is here with Peter Lam, RD, CFE, Co-Chair of IDDSI (on left) and Tim R. Garry, RD, LD, Director of Marketing for Hormel Health Labs / Hormel Food Sales, LLC
A True IDDSI Champion
Karen is an IDDSI Champion and has been writing blogs and lecturing about IDDSI to raise awareness since 2014. Karen is pictured here again with Peter Lam, RD, CFE, Co-Chair of IDDSI (Note: Peter’s co-chair is Dr Julie Cichero, BA, BSpThy(Hons), PhD, who is a Speech-Language Pathologist in Australia).
Karen is displaying a colorful IDDSI informational poster. Go to www.IDDSI.org/Resources/ to download your own IDDSI posters, Powerpoints and more.
Free IDDSI Webinars
Karen’s IDDSI Presentations:
1. BeckyDorner.com, providing the following 2 FREE webinars, brought to you by Hormel Health Labs. Learn more about IDDSI by listening to both of the webinars at: https://www.beckydorner.com/hormelhealthlabs/
2. NEW 15-20 minute IDDSI Training Modules at Hormel Health Labs:
Sign up for free inservice training series for your staff and get test kits to test foods and liquids IDDSI-style! https://www.hormelhealthlabs.com/resources/for-healthcare-professionals/in-service-training-series-iddsi-testing/
Hormel Health Labs Health Hero Award
Karen was the first recipient of the Hormel Health Labs Health Hero Award!
Read the full article: Health Hero Advances Dysphagia Research – Hormel Health Labs
Online Dysphagia Seminars at Summit Education
Karen provided live one-day seminars on dysphagia for Summit Professional Education in New Jersey, Minnesota, and New York in 2018.
The course is now available online at Summit Professional Education. Course title: What Every Therapist Needs to Know About Dysphagia: Swallowing Screening, Evaluation, & Treatment to Maximize Safety & Quality of Life.
It is at the intermediate level and is a broad-sweep across the field, including: why to be concerned about dysphagia, why and how to advocate for your patients, screening, evaluation, treatment, palliative care/ethical considerations, IDDSI and more. It is designed for SLPs of all experience levels who need to make sure they have the latest evidence-based practices and resources. Karen and Summit encourage OTs and PTs to attend as well for excellent interdisciplinary care. Please notify Summit Education if you have a group interested in a live seminar near you.
Want more courses? Check out:
Medications: Drug-Induced Dysphagia, Complications, and Potential Treatments
3D Printed Pharmaceuticals Summit
Karen presented at the first ever 3D Printed Pharmaceuticals Summit on November 8, 2018 in Livingston, NJ. She was invited to be on a panel titled: 3D Printing of Pharmaceuticals and Biologics to Address Unmet Medical Needs. The conference was sponsored by the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI.org) and Aprecia – The 3DP Pharmaceutical Company (Aprecia.com).
Dysphagia is a significant unmet need in traditional drug manufacturing, as people struggle every day to safely swallow their medications. Please see Karen’s blog for more exciting information on how 3D printing will revolutionize what we think of as a finished drug product.
American Speech-Language & Hearing Association (ASHA) in Boston, MA
Karen spoke at the 2018 national convention of the American Speech-Language & Hearing Association (ASHA) in Boston, MA. Together with Theresa Richard, MA, CCC-SLP, BCS-S from SwallowYourPride podcast, she spoke about revolutionizing the old concept that the videofluoroscopic swallow study/VFSS (aka, modified barium swallow study) is the only gold standard for dysphagia evaluations.
When an SLP is thoroughly evaluating an individual’s difficulty with swallowing, it cannot be a dichotomy between just the traditional two exams of the VFSS versus the FEES/Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing. You choose the exam that best fits your clinical questions and hypotheses. Your evaluation process may include one of these exams, both, none, and/or the myriad of other ways to evaluate the swallow with appropriate referrals to our other colleagues in the field of deglutition (i.e., gastroenterologists, otolaryngologists, etc). To reflect this thinking, Karen coined the new term of a “Platinum Standard of Personalized Medicine.”
This means that you are using a personalized medicine approach for you dysphagia evaluations. Your more precise evaluations will lead to targeting treatment to the individual’s needs. Read more on personalized medicine and precision medicine in Karen’s blog.
Caring For Caregivers Discussion with Researchers & Clinicians
Karen Sheffler, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S & Yvette McCoy, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S (on behalf of the American Board of Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders) hosted a live discussion for June’s Dysphagia Awareness Month. ABSSD’s focus this month has been on caring for caregivers. The discussion, recorded on June 18th, 2020, explored research around caregiver burden when a loved one has difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). Listen to a presentation of the research, tips for what clinicians can do to reduce caregiver burden, and a questions and answers session. Thank you Ashwini Namasivayam-MacDonald, PhD, CCC-SLP, SLP(C), Reg. CASLPO; Samantha Shune, PhD, CCC-SLP & Theresa Richard, MA, CCC-SLP, BCS-S for your presentations and contributions!
Go to @BCSSwallowing on Facebook for the recording.
See More Live Events Hosted by the ABSSD PR Committee:
Make sure you also scroll down on @BCSSwallowing to April 24, 2020 to see the Facebook Live Event with Dr Georgia Malandraki, PhD, CCC-SLP, BCS-S on Telehealth recommendations for dysphagia evaluation and management. See also https://www.purdue.edu/i-eatlab/telehealth-recommendations-for-dysphagia-management-during-covid-19/
Online Training & Webinars
With her clinical expertise, connections with researchers around the world and witty humor, bring Karen on to enrich your next conference, lecture series or webinar.Learn More
I used Ms. Sheffler as an expert on a nursing home choking death case. Her report was one of the best expert reports I have seen in thirty years of practice. The report was very helpful in getting the case resolved at mediation. She was quick and thorough with her work and it was a pleasure working with her.
What may seem like an insignificant gestures of outreach on your part have contributed so greatly to my professional growth in the past year already - that no amount of praise would be sufficient! The level of advocacy you offer and the breadth and depth of knowledge you possess on this topic is unfathomable.
Anthony Lewis, M.A., CCC-SLP
Thank you very much for your involvement in this case as an expert. Your report was very helpful in assisting the parties in settling the case.
I highly recommend Karen Sheffler’s VFSS courses on SpeechPathology.com! Karen’s presentation style was engaging and the information was in depth yet easy to understand. I gained functional knowledge that will improve my clinical decision-making in dysphagia.
Nina Ziemba, M.S., CCC-SLP
Karen’s ability to reach and educate professionals and the public from her review of current literature and conference proceedings helps us all!
MARTIN B. BRODSKY, PHD, SCM, CCC-SLP, ASHA FELLOW
Karen has a wonderful way of synthesizing science for clinical audiences. Her ability to communicate clearly and apply scientific results to real challenges in the clinical world is extremely important and goes a long way to filling the knowledge translation gap that scientists face.
Dr Catriona M. Steele, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, BCS-S, S-LP(C), Reg. CASLPO, ASHA Fellow
Karen Sheffler is an inspiring clinician and colleague. As an expert in the area of swallowing disorders (dysphagia), she has contributed greatly to our profession. She has written informative evidence-based articles, summarizing and translating the latest research in a simple and easily comprehensible format for clinicians and researchers alike.
Thank you for your presentation. Your extensive knowledge and sense of humor helped to advance the knowledge base of our attendees. It was an asset to the program.
I want to personally thank you for taking the time to review this matter for us and for our client. Your willingness to devote your time to the review of this matter helped us to achieve an excellent resolution
Karen Sheffler was a great speaker, educating our audience of Dietary Managers and Registered Dietitians on IDDSI. She is so easy to work with, and she provided many great additional online resources for the audience to get more information.