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Beau's Mom

Swallowing problems

3 posts in this topic

I had my second swallow study yesterday after being reduced to pureed foods and crushing as many meds as could be crushed and taking them with applesauce. I was told that my difficulties are a combination of three things: slow esophageal motility, a weak tongue, and having, over time, changed how I place food in my mouth to make it easier to swallow. It was recommended that I literally suck my thumb periodically during the day to strengthen it and relearn how to push food to the back of my mouth. I was also told that throwing my head back to make swallowing easier is more likely to cause aspiration. Can you suggest any other exercises to relieve any of these symptoms? Thank you.

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I'm glad that you had a swallow evaluation because it is important to understand the reasons for difficulty swallowing. Yes, I do have some suggestions for things that you might do to improve your situation. I am not familiar with thumb sucking technique to strengthen the tongue so can't comment on that. I am familiar with the work of JoAnne Robbins and her colleagues (2005; 2007) at the U of Wisconsin who have done considerable research investigating the benefits of tongue pressure resistance training; a workout for swallowing problems. Other researchers have also investigated tongue strengthening such as Cathy Lazarus and colleages (2003) and Youmans et al. (2009) so there is evidence that the method can be of benefit. The rationale behind using tongue-pressure resistance exercises is that the tongue is made up of muscle that can weaken with normal aging and that is made worse by PD. Robbins and her colleagues have demonstrated that healthy seniors can improve tongue strength with exercise. This is not a guarantee that these exercises can help improve your swallow but they may. The exercises are done with a device that measures pressure generated by the tongue. It is important that an accurate baseline strength be established and then it is recommended that patients exercise at 60-80% of their maximum capacity in an intensive manner to improve tongue strength that could result in a more efficient swallow. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help you with this. Talk to your movement disorders neurologist or ask at a PD support group for the names of SLPs who are experienced in treating people with PD. There is preliminary evidence that the intensive exercise of LSVT LOUD can also improve aspects of swallowing for people with PD.

 

I wish you the best.

 

Leslie Mahler

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Dear Beau's Mom, I agree with Dr. Mahler's advice but have a few other ideas.

 

It is hard for me to provide advice with such little information. But here are some thoughts. First, you mentioned that you were diagnosed with slow esophageal motility. I hope you are seeing a GI specialist, who can advise you about this problem. I like to think of this problem as “The clogged drain problem.” In other words, even if you have a strong tongue and can swallow efficiently, the food is getting backed up, much like a sink with a clogged drain.

There are some resistance exercises, that Dr. Mahler mentioned, that could possibly improve your tongue strength. But you must be under the care of a speech pathologist that specializes in swallowing. Your speech pathologist could design a program to hopefully improve tongue strength and to assist you to learn how to properly position your food after it’s chewed and avoid unsafe behaviors like kicking your head back while swallowing. There are various exercises such as “tongue push-ups” , effortful swallowing, and expiratory muscle strength training – but they must be taught and your performance should be monitored by a SLP.

Finally, try to eat your meals during the middle of your medication cycles versus at other times. This could possibly maximize your swallowing and you might find that at this time you have better oral control, particularly with your tongue.

I hope these ideas are helpful. Above all, I urge you to seek guidance from a GI specialist and a Speech Pathologist who specializes in swallowing problems.

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