What are Swallowing Disorders?

Did you know that having difficulty swallowing foods or even thin liquids, such as water, can be distinguished as a swallowing disorder? Dysphagia is the medical term used for difficulty swallowing.  According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, every year swallowing difficulties will affect 1 in every 25 adults.

Kathleen Diblin, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S, is a Board-Certified Specialist in Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders and  Clinical Speech Language Pathologist. For 20 years, she has been helping patients both in the inpatient and outpatient speech pathology programs at Bacharach.

What is dysphagia?

Swallowing disorders affect the timing, effort and safety that is needed to move food or liquid from the mouth down into the stomach. Since eating becomes difficult with a swallowing disorder, individuals may notice an increase in health risks along with experiencing depression, low self-esteem, and poor social performance.

What are the symptoms of dysphagia?

  • Chronic pain while swallowing food or liquid
  • Regurgitating food or liquid
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Coughing or gagging while swallowing food or liquid
  • Food remaining in the mouth after swallowing
  • Sudden onset of not being able to swallow or manage saliva

How do you get a referral for treatment?

A physician’s prescription is required in order to receive a swallow evaluation at Bacharach. This evaluation focuses on gathering as much information on the patient as possible by looking at the oral motor movements and assessing any possible cranial nerve damage in the patient.

What is included in Bacharach’s dysphagia treatment?

During the Clinical Swallow Evaluation patients will be given foods of different texture to examine the swallowing process.  The test begins with smooth food, such as a puree, and finishes with a hard crunch texture, such as a cookie.  “If we see any signs or symptoms that food may enter the airway we will work with the patient and may instruct them to use a strategy such as a different head position to complete a safer swallow,” says Kathleen.

Bacharach’s experienced speech-language pathology team will assess each patient’s evaluation and determine a customized treatment plan. Since each therapy program needs to be very specific to the patient’s needs, there are additional swallowing studies and programs available to those suffering from swallowing disorders.

After an evaluation, patients next undergo a Modified Barium Swallow study (MBS) to help see the mouth and throat during the swallowing process. This study is conducted to assess the safety and efficiency of the swallowing function. Based on the findings, the team at Bacharach will develop a diet that is least restrictive, but safe and efficient to ensure swallowing difficulty relief in each individual patient.

What are some of the treatment options available at Bacharach?

Kathleen explains, “we have safety mechanisms already built in if any food or liquid enters the airways like a cough, throat clear, or something just not feeling right like “something went down the wrong pipe.” But sometimes, these safety mechanisms fail due to swallowing difficulties.” Bacharach offers several treatment plans to follow a diagnosis of a swallowing disorder. Some of these treatment programs include:

  • Vital Slim Therapy: this is a neuromuscular electrical stimulation therapy which collects information from previous swallowing tests including the MBS. This therapy places electrodes in certain patterns based on what has been seen during the objective testing. The goal of Vital Slim Therapy is to re-train muscles on how they’re supposed to work by triggering a swallow reflex faster or strengthening the muscles so there’s a stronger contraction to move the food and liquid down the throat.
  • Myofascial Release/Manual Therapy: this therapy is used with patients undergoing radiation therapy in the head and neck area. Typically, this therapy is recommended for those suffering from fibrosis when the tissues in the neck get hard and through Myofascial Release/Manual Therapy, Bacharach’s team works to loosen the structure so that swallowing can move more freely.
  • McNeil Dysphagia Therapy Program: Bacharach is one of the only rehabilitation facilities to offer this therapy in the area. McNeil Dysphagia Therapy Program is a “swallowing boot camp,” says Kathleen. This program is a new evidenced-based approach to swallowing difficulties and typically lasts 5 days a week for 4 weeks. Often accompanied by Myofascial Release/Manual Therapy, transitioning into this program will help patients get back to eating a lot faster after teaching a new swallowing pattern to diminished impairments associated with swallowing difficulties.

For more information about swallowing difficulties and the programs offered at Bacharach, please call the Speech Department at (609) 784-5360.



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