Therapy Advancements

Dysphagia is the medical term used to describe swallowing difficulties. Swallowing is a complex process with approximately 50 pairs of muscles and many nerves working to get food into the mouth, prepare it for swallowing and moving the food from the mouth to the stomach.  Some people may have problems swallowing certain foods or liquids, while others can’t swallow at all.

Dysphagia occurs when there is a problem with the neural control or the structures involved in any part of the swallowing process. Certain disorders, such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease, can cause dysphagia. Neurological damage from a stroke or brain or spinal cord injury, cancer or cancer treatments and cleft palates can also affect the ability to swallow.  Weak tongue or cheek muscles may make it hard to move food around in the mouth while chewing and weak throat muscles, such as after cancer surgery, cannot move all of the food toward the stomach.

When visiting with your healthcare provider about swallowing difficulties, they may order a videofluoroscopic swallow study (VFSS) to be completed at Floyd Valley Healthcare.  In this exam, a clinician takes a videotaped X-ray of the entire swallowing process while having you consume several types of food and/or liquids.  You will also intake mineral barium to improve visibility of the digestive tract to produce images to help identify where in the swallowing process a person is experiencing problems.

Speech-language pathologists use this information to explore what changes can be made to offer a safe strategy when swallowing for the patient.  Some patient may need to alter their position while easting or the process in which they prepare their meals.  Others may benefit by a treatment that involves muscle exercises to strengthen weak facial muscles or to improve coordination. 

The Floyd Valley Speech Therapy Department recently purchased a Synchrony Dysphagia unit to help patients with swallowing therapy.  Therapy is a hands-on approach as well as a virtual environment to engage patients in fun, interactive swallowing and speech exercises.  Objective data highlights progress for patients and therapists to see while also guiding efficient treatment plans.  Therapists are seeing improved motivation and tolerance for therapy by patients with superior functional outcomes, higher patient satisfaction and improved quality of life.

Kris Singer is a current speech therapy patient using the Synchrony and would recommend it for anyone having issues with their swallow.  In previous treatment she felt she was using the correct muscles in a harder swallow, but by using the Synchrony she was able to visualize that the strength of her swallow needed to be even harder, making her therapy extremely efficient.  Alissa Paulsen, a speech therapist at Floyd Valley Healthcare, added that involvement of over 20 muscles from your mouth, throat and esophagus to successfully achieve a swallow response, so using the Synchrony can quickly help isolate which muscle(s) are needing to be strengthened and can help tailor the patient’s care plan.

If you have questions or concerns about dysphasia symptoms, please contact your primary care provider.