Tag Archives: difficulty swallowing

Muhammad Ali, Parkinson’s and Dysphagia

As the world continues to mourn the passing of Muhammad Ali, we at the blog were thinking about the legendary boxer’s life and his long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

Ali was known as a fighter, having gone up against the likes of Larry Holmes, George Foreman and Joe Frazier — but his greatest battle may have been Parkinson’s Disease.

Parkinson’s Disease impacts an estimated one million Americans, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, with about 60,000 new diagnoses each year.

Ali’s public bout with the disease began with a memorable moment at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, when the gold medalist lit the Olympic flame despite his badly shaking limbs.

Why are we talking about Parkinson’s Disease on a blog about dysphagia (difficulty swallowing?) Because people with Parkinson’s often find themselves suffering with dysphagia as well.

Parkinson’s impacts motor function, often manifesting through tremor, rigidity, slowness of movement and postural instability. But additional problems may display as a result of Parkinson’s — one of them being dysphagia.

If you’re suffering from dysphagia, regardless of the cause, we hope that Ali can be an inspiration to you to keep fighting.

Ali was relentless in training for his matches. He knew that regardless of the challenger he’d face in the ring, his body would be prepared.

Swallow Solutions offers an innovative product to help dysphagia patients train the muscles involved in the swallow — ultimately helping them regain the ability to swallow.

With an attitude like Ali, and the SwallowSTRONG, dysphagia patients can often times deliver a knock out blow to their swallowing problems.

(June is National Dysphagia Awareness month. Follow us on Twitter or join us on Facebook for more dysphagia facts throughout the month.)


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The Complex Process of the Swallow

If you’ve read our blog before, you’re familiar with the frustrating nature of dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing.

But the fact is, swallowing is a complex physical process, and as such, many things can go wrong. That’s why it’s important to have professionals diagnose and prepare a treatment plan.

In today’s post, we’ll break down the steps of the swallow. Be sure to check out this article on Provider for more details.

When we think of the swallow, we sometimes think of it as a fluid, continuous process. But what we think of as swallowing actually contains four distinct phases: the Oral Preparatory phase, the Oral phase, the Pharyngeal phase and the Esophageal phase.

The Oral Preparatory phase takes place when food first enters the mouth. To keep food in the mouth, the lips must possess appropriate strength. The tongue and jaw work together to hold the food in place until the next phase begins.

The Oral phase is the tongue’s time to shine. It begins anterior and posterior movement, pushing food to the back of the throat. The back of the tongue rises as food begins its trip down into the pharynx.

The Pharyngeal phase begins with the soft palate rising to meet the posterior pharyngeal wall and the larynx rising towards the base of the tongue. Openings to the trachea and larynx are covered by passive movement, and the muscles of the pharynx contract to bring the food towards the muscles at the top of the food tube (the cricopharyngeal sphincter).

The Esophageal phase involves — you guessed it — the esophagus. The cricopharyngeus muscle relaxes, allowing the food to pass into the esophagus. A quick wavelike contraction of the muscles in the esophagus pushes food down towards the stomach.

By understanding the phases of the swallow, it’s easier to see how a number of things could cause problems during it, resulting in dysphagia. If you or a loved one have difficulty swallowing, oropharyngeal strengthening with the SwallowSTRONG may be able to help.

Check out more information about Swallow Solutions here.

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How SSMS Makes Dysphagia Treatment Easier

For patients with difficulty swallowing (also known as dysphagia) SwallowSTRONG from Swallow Solutions can provide the strengthening therapy needed to regain the ability to swallow, and with it the ability to eat and drink normally.

The SwallowSTONG Management System (SSMS) is the perfect companion software to SwallowSTRONG. SSMS is a cloud-based system that allows for clinicians using SwallowSTRONG to treat dysphagia to track relevant patient data, making patient care quantifiable and easy to manage.

And SSMS is completely HIPAA compliant–no protected health information is ever collected or stored on the SwallowSTRONG device or on the SSMS.

Here’s how you can apply SSMS to make caring for your patients easier than ever.

Remotely view patient progress and reports

In some use cases, patents take SwallowSTRONG home with them to continue their therapy course between meetings with their speech language pathologist.

With SSMS, after each therapy course, data showing overall patient progress is automatically uploaded to a database that’s accessible to the clinician wherever they can reach the internet. That means that patients and clinicians no longer need to be in the same room for clinicians to see how patients are doing.

Monitor adherence

Therapy can’t work if a patient doesn’t do it. But SSMS allows clinicians to view how regularly patients are performing their prescribed therapy treatment.

Performance data from each therapy session is uploaded to SSMS automatically.

Remotely adjust therapy parameters

With SSMS, clinicians can make adjustments to the therapy remotely, making targets easier or more challenging depending on the situation.

If one patient is performing particularly well on her prescribed targets, and is no longer building strength at that level, a clinician using SSMS will be able to see that. In that situation, it may be appropriate to increase therapy targets, making the therapy more challenging so the patient continues to build strength.

On the flip side, if a patient is having a difficult time with a prescribed therapy, a clinician can adjust therapy targets down, so that that patient doesn’t become discouraged.

Download therapy data for analysis and report writing

Clinicians can evaluate a patient’s treatment simply by downloading all of the available patient data. Track ups and downs, increases in strength, and overall effectiveness of the treatment all through easy-to-read charts and graphs.

Learn more about SSMS and SwallowSTRONG by contacting Swallow Solutions


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Aging and Dysphagia

Though dysphagia can occur as a symptom of a larger disease, it can also occur in people as a part of normal aging. In fact, 22% of adults over age 50, and 55% of those in institutional settings suffer from dysphagia.

A post by Rebecca Leonard, Ph.D. on the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders website outlined some of the ways how swallowing changes as we get older. Check out the list below:

  1. Reduced bulk and sensitivity of the vocal cords. The vocal cords help protect from aspiration (food or drink “going down the wrong pipe”) during the swallow. If the vocal cords don’t effectively seal off the airway, the material being swallowed could end up in the lungs. A telltale sign of this kind of trouble swallowing is coughing after a swallow.
  2. Reduced bulk and strength of the tongue and throat (pharynx). The tongue and pharynx help to propel food and drink down the esophagus (the tube that leads to the stomach) during the swallow. If that process isn’t working correctly, material can remain in the mouth after the swallow and cause aspiration.
  3. Decreased sphincter size at the top of the esophagus. During a normal swallow, the hole that leads to the esophagus relaxes, allowing food and drink to enter. As we age, the opening gets smaller. In this case, solid food or pills may “get stuck” on the way down to the stomach.
  4. The throat (pharynx) is longer. For younger people, the average swallowing time is about 1 second. That time gets longer as we age, meaning that the airway has to be protected for longer during each swallow.

We know that swallowing function changes as we age. Typically, we make compensations for our swallowing without knowing it, and many people continue to eat safely. However, as the population ages and more people encounter swallowing difficulty, it’s important we understand how to recognize and treat these changes so we can swallow safely into old age.

Read more on NFOSD.

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Swallowing and Quality of Life

Have you ever had a bad cold, or an allergy that caused your nose to be so stuffed up that it became hard to breathe? In those moments, have you considered how nice it is to be able to breathe without effort or concentration?

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I imagine that that’s what it’s like for people who have swallowing disorders, or dysphagia. Swallowing is a function you don’t think much about until you can’t do it anymore, and then it becomes a preoccupation that makes you miserable.

To me, one of the most profound things about dysphagia is how it impacts quality of life.

On the blog, we talk a lot about causes for dysphagia (stroke, head and neck cancer, traumatic brain injury, sarcopenia, etc.), and methods to treat it (have you heard of the SwallowSTRONG?) We talk about the serious health complications dysphagia can cause (aspiration pneumonia, malnutrition, etc.)

What we haven’t talked much about what having a swallowing disorder might be like. So with this post, I want to engage your empathy: if you don’t have a swallowing disorder, think about what it would be like if you did. If you are suffering from dysphagia, understand that the goal of this post is to help people to understand how serious it is to not be able to swallow.

Food and drink are such major parts of our social lives as human beings. Nearly every gathering among people, from coffee dates to birthday parties to graduations to religious services involves sharing food or drink with people you love. When you’re unable to swallow, you can’t enjoy any of these functions in the way you did before.

The extra effort and time it takes for each swallow causes embarrassment and stress. You become so preoccupied by your difficulty with swallowing that you can’t enjoy your conversations.

It’s no wonder that swallowing disorders can cause people to withdraw socially. We humans are social animals, and we need social interaction to achieve a high quality of life.

Obviously, we at Swallow Solutions want the best possible health outcomes for our patients. But a real driving force to what we do is improving patient quality of life.

We’re so proud and happy to have helped patients who couldn’t swallow regain the ability to swallow again. It’s our hope that after reading this post, you understand just why that is.

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Who Gets Dysphagia?

By now, if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already familiar with dysphagia. Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, is a symptom that can be caused by a number of conditions. SwallowSTRONG is an innovative therapy device that helps people strengthen the muscles involved in swallowing. But why might people need this kind of therapy? Who does dysphagia affect?

Really, dysphagia is much more prevalent than you might think. We could discuss the raw numbers, for example: dysphagia impacts as many as 15 million Americans (about as many as the combined populations of New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago), but instead this post will focus on conditions that can lead to dysphagia, and how prevalent those conditions are. The following list is by no means all-encompassing. Dysphagia can occur without one of the conditions listed below being present. This list is simply to illustrate who might be at risk, and to show the varied conditions that can lead to difficulty swallowing.

1. Parkinson’s Disease. According to the National Parkinson Foundation, Parkinson’s Disease affects 1 million people in the U.S. alone.

2. Multiple Sclerosis. The National MS Society estimates MS prevalence at about 400,000 people in the U.S.

3. Stroke. The Centers for Disease Control reports that every year, more than 795,000 people suffer a stroke. Of that number, about 610,000 are people who have never had a stroke before.

4. Traumatic Brain Injury. A CDC fact sheet says that each year, 275,000 people are hospitalized due to a traumatic brain injury.

5. Head and Neck Cancer. Cancer.net estimates that almost 60,000 people will be diagnosed with head and neck cancer this year.

There are many other conditions that may put people at risk for suffering with dysphagia. 

Sarcopenia, or muscle loss as a result of aging, is extremely common among the elderly. This can lead to a condition called presbyphagia, or swallowing difficulty in otherwise healthy older adults.

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LINK Recognizes Swallow Solutions as Most Innovative

We got some exciting news last week, as we were recognized as “Most Innovative” during the LINK Innovation Competition.

The competition is held annually as a part of the LINK LTC Conference, and winners are decided based on audience votes and a panel of impartial, independent judges from various segments of the long term care industry.

Judging was based on need in the marketplace, uniqueness of the product, potential impact on long term care, and product readiness. Even though the award focuses on innovative products, the judges commented that our proven track record of having treated over 1,000 patients throughout the country was a key consideration in awarding us first place.

Swallow Solutions CEO Eric Horler and EVP Ray Heller pose with the First Place Innovation Award from LINK LTC.

Swallow Solutions CEO Eric Horler and EVP Ray Heller pose with the First Place Innovation Award from LINK LTC.

Our device, the SwallowSTRONG, deserves the credit for bringing us the award. The device uses technology to deliver strengthening therapy to patients suffering from dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing. Dysphagia can be a big expense for long term care facilities, as patients suffering from it may need to eat modified diets, or be on feeding tubes. Dysphagia can also lead to further serious health complications, including aspiration pneumonia (where foreign substances ‘go down the wrong pipe’ into the lungs). Swallowing problems often develop due to weak lingual musculature, and the SwallowSTRONG helps to rebuild the strength of those muscles, ultimately helping patients regain the ability to swallow safely.

We’re so proud of this award, and so excited to share the news with you!

You can read more about the SwallowSTRONG here, and more about the award here.

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Thoughts on “Swallow: A Documentary”

Back in 2011, the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders produced a documentary about dysphagia called “Swallow: A Documentary.”

Since it was posted on YouTube, the video has been viewed almost 90,000 times, and it’s a wonderful look into the lives of people with swallowing disorders. If you haven’t seen it, please check it out below:

As you can see, dysphagia affects people in all different stages of life for a large variety of reasons, but the consequences remain the same.

“When you can swallow, you have the luxury of wondering what you’re gonna wear, what you’re gonna eat…” says Sonia near the beginning of the video. “But when you can’t swallow, all you get to think about is that you can’t swallow.”

This is why we at Swallow Solutions and all the amazing speech-language pathologists and therapy professionals around the world do what we do. Dysphagia is a serious health condition, but it’s also a serious quality of life concern. We hope to help people regain their ability to swallow to improve both health and quality of life.

If you or someone you care about is having difficulty swallowing, reach out to your doctor and see if you can be connected with an SLP. Also consider checking out our website and learning more about SwallowSTRONG, our innovative therapy device.

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June is National Dysphagia Awareness Month – Dysphagia Facts

June is National Dysphagia Awareness Month, and we at Swallow Solutions are hoping to raise awareness for this serious medical condition. Let’s start off with some facts about dysphagia. How many of these did you know?

1) Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, affects more than 15 million Americans.

2) Stroke, neurodegenerative disorders, and head and neck cancers are common causes of dysphagia.

3) Dysphagia can occur for a number of reasons, and is common in people with weak lingual musculature. Muscles in your head and neck enable you to swallow regular foods and liquids.

4) Dysphagia can lead to life threatening health complications, such as dehydration, malnutrition, aspiration pneumonia (when food or liquid ‘goes down the wrong pipe,’ and gets to the lungs) and/or airway obstruction.

5) Modified diets (thickened liquids or pureed solids) are commonly recommended for people with dysphagia.

6) Dysphagia can also result in reduced quality of life. Just think of how many social events are centered around eating and drinking! Now imagine not being able to participate fully in those events with friends and family.

7) Dysphagia can cause people to feel socially isolated and withdrawn.

8) Clinical evidence supports strengthening lingual musculature (something that can be accomplished using the SwallowSTRONG device) to increase swallowing ability. Therapy for dysphagia is often divided into two “camps:” Compensatory (diet modification) or Rehabilitative (lingual strengthening). Both can be used together!

9) Therapy for dysphagia is often divided into two “camps:” Compensatory (diet modification) or Rehabilitative (lingual strengthening). Both can be used together!

10) Compensatory strategies are often used early on in therapy, and can be eliminated as a dysphagia patient gets stronger and swallows more safely.

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