HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Properly treating something that can’t be seen can be stressful for both doctors and patients. For something as simple as swallowing, a simple tickle in your throat may seem like a small nuisance but it could actually be something more serious.
While doctors and speech-language pathologists have been working with patients for years through therapy, new computer technology is looking to revolutionize how therapists treat those with Dysphagia, difficulty swallowing.
Surface Electromyography (sEMG) uses non-invasive computer technology and electrodes that are placed on the skin, giving patients and therapists a visual of what muscles are doing.
Joey Farris, a Speech-Language Pathologist at Therapy Achievements in Huntsville says this is a technology they’ve been waiting for a while now.
“This is so helpful to us and the patients because when we’re exercising we need to know am I doing this correctly, am I doing it the way the therapist is showing me how to do it,” Farris said.
Jennifer Egeland, another Speech-Language Pathologist at the rehabilitation center says it’s estimated that 15 million Americans live with this condition and may not even realize it, the condition impacts people of all ages and could be related to other conditions.
But, Egeland says rehabilitating someone with Dysphagia is far more complex, “We have to explain to do these exercises within the throat or within the mouth. It’s hard to explain to the patient how to do this and to assess whether they’re accurate, with good muscle function.”
Rehab for the condition isn’t like doing a physical movement, such as a squat or moving your hands up and down. Both pathologists agree the visual feedback of the sEMG helps the patient and therapists, “see” what the patient is doing well and can better assess what elements of the exercise need to be adjusted.
For patients with Dysphagia, it’s important that they do mouth and throat exercises correctly and repetitively and whether their patients are watching an animated kangaroo on a screen, that jumps every time they swallow hard enough or a bar graph that spikes when they hit a certain threshold, “They’re seeing what they can do and then they start to challenge themselves,” Egeland said.
Dysphagia effects stroke survivors, adults 50 and over, patients needing radiation for head and neck cancer, Parkinson’s and even those with Multiple Sclerosis. But, both therapists agree that the visual component of the system is helping patients more than ever before.
“When they see that we can measure it and they can see the feedback that they’re getting and they have a goal now, it helps them to increase the swallowing function,” Egeland said, “Leading to consistency, higher repetition and muscle memory.”
Both Farris and Egeland said the technology is more engaging, fun and motivational than the traditional exercises alone and they’re excited to continue working with the system.
Therapy Achievements is located at 802 Shoney Dr, Suite. C, Huntsville, AL 35801.