New computer program helps therapists relearn how to swallow

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Properly treating something that cannot be seen can be stressful for doctors and patients. For something as simple as swallowing, a simple tickle in the throat might seem like a small annoyance, but it could actually be something more serious.

While doctors and speech therapists have been working with patients for years through therapy, new computer technology seeks to revolutionize the way therapists treat people with dysphagia, difficulty swallowing.

Surface electromyography (sEMG) uses non-invasive computer technology and electrodes that are placed on the skin, giving patients and therapists a visual of what the muscles are doing.

Joey Farris, speech pathologist at Therapy Achievements in Huntsville, says this is technology they’ve been waiting for for some time now.

“It’s very helpful for us and the patients because when we exercise, we need to know if I’m doing it right, if I’m doing it the way the therapist is showing me how to do it,” Farris said.

Jennifer Egeland, another speech therapist at the rehabilitation center, says that an estimated 15 million Americans live with this disease and may not even realize it, the disease affects people of all ages and could be linked to other conditions.

But, says Egeland, the rehabilitation of someone with dysphagia is much more complex: “We have to explain how to do these exercises in the throat or in the mouth. It is difficult to explain to the patient how to do this and to assess whether they are accurate, with good muscle function.

Rehabilitation for the condition is not like doing a physical movement, like a squat or moving your hands up and down. Both pathologists agree that visual feedback from sEMG helps the patient and therapists “see” what the patient is doing well and can better assess which elements of exercise need adjusting.

For dysphagia patients, it is important that they do mouth and throat exercises correctly and repetitively and that their patients watch an animated kangaroo on a screen, which jumps every time they swallow hard enough or a bar graph that increases when they reach a certain threshold. , “They see what they can do, and then they start to challenge themselves,” Egeland said.

Dysphagia affects stroke survivors, adults 50 and older, patients requiring radiation therapy for head and neck cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and even people with multiple sclerosis. But both therapists agree that the visual component of the system is helping patients more than ever.

“When they see that we can measure it and they can see the feedback they’re getting and that they have a goal now, it helps them increase swallowing function,” Egeland said, “leads to consistency , higher repetition and muscle memory.”

Farris and Egeland said the technology is more engaging, fun and motivating than traditional exercises alone and they are excited to continue working with the system.

Therapeutic Accomplishments are located at 802 Shoney Dr, Suite. C, Huntsville, AL 35801.

Gordon K. Morehouse