Electrodes Offer Swallowing Solution

Think of your favorite food. Now, imagine you can't ever have it, because you can't swallow it.

The problem is more common than you think. An estimated 15 million adults in the United States have swallowing disorders. Each year, nearly 6000 people die from complications associated with swallowing. But now, Kansas Rehab Hospital is the first in our area to offer a new treatment that can help.

Harold Simon is one of those benefiting. A recent stroke left him unable to swallow food. Speech pathologist Kathleen Kinsler hooked electrodes to his neck in an effort to help.

"It activates those muscles in your throat that help you swallow," Kinsler said.

It's called vital stim therapy. Kinsler said the theory is the same that's been used for years on muscles in the arms and legs. Now, it's being used to help those who's muscles are damaged or weakened by stroke, ALS, MS or Parkinson's disease.

"Depending on what the patient is, sometimes it helps them swallow faster, swallow stronger," she said, "so that when they do swallow, the food or the liquid actually goes where it's supposed to, which is in the esophagus, and not into the lungs."

Kinsler said if food does get into the lungs, it can cause bacterial infections and pneumonia. Another concern is that patients like Harold may be forced onto a diet of only thick liquids, which they may not like, and malnutrition becomes a concern.

But vital stim therapy has Harold on the right track.

"He would actually cough 100-percent of the time, every time he drank nectar-thick liquids," Kinsler said, "With the electrodes on, he only coughed about 75-percent of the time - and that was just in his first trial!"

Kinsler said in trials, vital stim therapy has an 80-percent success rate for getting patients back on a normal diet in just two weeks.

You can learn more about it at www.vitalstimtherapy.com.

A lot of people with swallowing disorders don't know it. If you notice yourself coughing a lot at every meal, you may want to talk to your doctor.

MB, 13 NEWS.

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