Published on July 16, 2012

New therapy helps improve swallowing

Swallowing disorders have many causes.

But the end result can be dehydration and/or poor nutrition.

swallow testA feeding tube may become necessary, disrupting the quality of life.

To help patients recover the ability to swallow, Mercy Home Health’s speech-language pathologists have recently added a new tool called VitalStim. In VitalStim, electrodes are placed on the skin of the neck to stimulate muscles used in swallowing, notes Michael Gottfried, a speech-language pathologist at Mercy Home Health. VitalStim is used together with various strengthening exercises and postures with the goal of having a patient eat and drink with few, if any, diet restrictions. The level of stimulation is based on the patient’s comfort, he adds. “Patients often report a tingling sensation and perhaps a tug on the neck.”

No More Feeding Tube

When hospital doctors placed him on a feeding tube in 2009, now-91-year-old Al Schaefer Sr.’s family had no idea that his swallowing muscles would become weak from disuse, making it impossible to eat normally when he was discharged. After a search for effective treatment, the family found Mercy Home Health. Mr. Schaefer’s speech therapist successfully used VitalStim along with traditional therapy to gradually increase his ability to eat on his own. He began eating normally within months.

“My father can now drink thin liquids with a greatly reduced fear of aspiration (breathing food or liquid into the lungs) and is eating three meals a day,” says his son, Al Schaefer, Jr. “He is so much happier now. He hated the feeding tube.”

Helping Hand

Mercy Home Health provides effective therapies for the side effects of chronic health conditions. Call 888.690.2551 for more information.