Pudding and a Straw

                                                                                

Picture from: http://www.busymomboutique.com

Haven’t you always wanted a very simple exercise that will work and strengthen the entire swallowing mechanism using resistance?  I do as well.  I have an exercise that I use all the time with my patients.  I am usually chastised by my co-workers when having patients use this exercise.  Patients give me a strange look until they try it.

This exercise has no fancy name.  I call it……..Pudding with a Straw.  It is exactly as the name implies.  The patient drinks pudding through a straw.

So first, let’s look at the evidence…….  I take into account that, from reading research…..I know using a straw increases labial activation.  A thicker, heavier bolus can add resistance to the swallow and can actually increase the movements both orally and pharyngeally with the swallow.   Using an effortful swallow increases sensory input to the swallowing mechanism.  Swallowing is a sub maximal event as a whole, but when the patient focuses and purposefully uses a more effortful swallow, there is an increase in the muscle contraction of the entire swallowing mechanism.

I take all of this into account and then try the method myself, to see what I feel.  When I drink pudding through a straw, not a Panera smoothie straw, not a regular drinking straw, a cocktail straw/coffee stirrer size straw, I can feel a difference.  My lips purse together with increased effort.  My tongue retracts and tightens, my jaw tightens.  I then suck enough pudding through the straw to swallow and use an effortful swallow.  At one time, I have incorporated straw use with a safe consistency bolus for most, an effortful swallow and a weighted bolus.  I have also used the entire swallowing structure.

I believe it is important and necessary that we look at the swallowing mechanism as a whole, a process, rather than 4 parts.  It’s great to break the swallowing system down into phases for descriptive purposes, but every part of the swallow is connected in some manner and every part of the swallow deserves some attention.

Now, keep in mind, not every patient can start at the level of a small cocktail straw/coffee stirrer or even the pudding.  I can modify the straw by either using a larger diameter straw (Panera smoothie straws seem to be the largest I’ve found at this point).  Regular drinking straws also work very well.  Not only can I change the diameter of the straw, I can change the size of the straw by cutting it in half or in thirds.  The shorter the straw, the easier the task.

Now, keep in mind, the viscosity of pudding can be varied as well.  Many times I will use a thickened liquid or applesauce for patients that are not able to start with pudding.  I may work up to yogurt, without the fruit.  Then with the pudding, in my experience, I have found that sugar-free pudding seems to be the thinnest, followed by home-made, then Snack Pack pudding.  Snack Pudding, the chocolate seems to be the lesser viscous, followed by butterscotch, with vanilla having the thickest viscosity.  Room temperature vs. refrigerated also makes a difference.  Room temperature pudding is a little less tedious for the patients, while with the refrigerated, I’m also adding the temperature aspect to my sensory portion of therapy, in addition to the difficulty of the task.

I don’t write a goal for the patient sucking pudding through a straw.  We may be working on lingual strengthening, pharyngeal strengthening, tongue base retraction, labial seal.  I don’t write my notes as “the patient was able to drink a Snack Pack cup of refrigerated chocolate pudding.”  We were working on using an effortful swallow, straw sucking for increased labial seal, weighted bolus for resistance.

Now I do time my patients and keep track of the time.  I will time the patient to see how long it takes to complete the task.  As the patient gains strength with the task, the time should decrease.  You can also use e-stim or sEMG with your patient as they are completing the task.

I don’t stress if the patient needs the entire session time to complete the task.  This is what I want them to do!!  I want the patient to use an effortful swallow.  I want to apply the rules of neuroplasticity and use a specific swallowing task, applying resistance and specificity.  My patient is swallowing, using both an effortful swallow with a focus of tongue to palate contact and using a weighted bolus with the thick pudding.

I challenge you to try this exercise.  Try the vanilla with the coffee stirrer/cocktail straws and feel what the exercise does for you!

Clark, H.M. (2005).  Therapeutic exercise in dysphagia management: Philosophies, practices and challenges.  Perspectives in Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders, 24-27.

 

Robbins, J.A., Butler, S.G., Daniels S.K., Diez Gross, R., Langmore, S., Lazarus, C.L., et al. (2008). Swallowing and dysphagia rehabilitation: Translating principles of neural plasticity into clinically oriented evidence. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 51, S276-300.

 

Burkhead L.M., Sapienza C.M., Rosenbek J.C.  (2007).  Strength-training exercise in dysphagia rehabilitation:  Principles, procedures and directions for future research.  Dysphagia; 22:  251-265.

 

Clark, H.M. (2003). Neuromuscular treatments for speech and swallowing: A tutorial.

 

Lazarus, C. Logemann, J.A., Huang, C.F., and Rademaker, A.W. (2003). Effects of two types of tongue strengthening exercises in young normals. Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica, 55, 199-205.

 

Robbins, J.A., Gangnon, R.E., Theis, S.M., Kays, S.A., Hewitt, A.L., & Hind, J.A. (2005). The effects of lingual exercise on swallowing in older adults. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 53, 1483-1489.

 

Wheeler-Hegland, K.M., Rosenbek, J.C., Sapienza, C.M.  (2008). Submental sEMG and Hyoid Movement During Mendelsohn Maneuver, Effortful Swallow, and Expiratory Muscle Strength Training.  Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 51, 1072-1087.

 

Burkhead LM.  Applications of Exercise Science in Dysphagia Rehabilitation.  Perspectives on Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia) June 2009; 18: 43-48.

 

Park JW, Kim Y, Oh JC, Lee HJ.  Effortful Swallow Training combined with Electrical Stimulation in Post Stroke Dysphagia:  A Randomized Controlled Study.  Dypshagia (2012).  DOI: 10.1007/S00455-012-9403-3.

 

Bulow M, Olsson R, Ekbert O.  Videomanometric Analysis of Supraglottic Swallow, Effortful and Non Effortful Swallow and Chin Tuck in Healthy Volunteers.  Dysphagia.  (1999); 14(2):  67-72.  DOI: 10.1007/PL00009589.

It Takes A GOOD Therapist

I was sitting and thinking today. There are so many therapists that I have seen that are sub-par, (none of my friends of course!) It made me stop and think that every patient, client and student deserves to have the best of the best as far as therapy goes. I don’t want to take my children to a sub-par doctor, why shouldn’t I expect expertise from my therapist???

 Dysphagia, in that respect, is no different than any other specialty. In fact, dysphagia may be a little more so in needing expertise. Dysphagia is life and death most of the time. I’ve actually seen patients die from poor choices in diet and from upgrading too soon to an inappropriate diet. Residents in nursing homes have died from uneducated staff. This is not acceptable. This is my own personal list of what it takes to be a GOOD therapist, from a dysphagia perspective, of course.

 1. You need a therapist that is knowledgeable, to the point that the therapist can make any and all patients, client, etc. understand dysphagia. Every patient/client is entitled to understand their diagnosis and to understand the therapy you are providing. I can’t count how many patients have come to me for therapy, after having previous dysphagia therapy and never understood what the actual problem is!

 2. The dysphagia therapist should very much understand the process of the swallow. It’s not enough to know that people aspirate or penetrate and then give them a cookbook sheet of oral-motor exercises to complete every day 10 times, 3 times a day. The dysphagia therapist needs to know the muscles, the structures, the nerves and their functions.

 3. Don’t underestimate all the new treatments that are available. So many people will absolutely not touch VitalStim because “it’s not researched enough.” VitalStim and NMES is one of the most researched areas in our field. If you are able, go to these courses and learn what they are about. Read the literature. Make your own educated opinions. I always find that taking a little from each and every course that I go to, and putting it together to create my own therapy plan is more successful than the cookbook sheet of oral motor exercises.

 4. Do a COMPLETE assessment of each and every patient. It is not enough to simply sit with the patient at a meal and watch for them to cough or choke. You need to assess all the cranial nerves, do a complete chart review, palpate the structures and functions during the swallow. The 3 ounce water swallow challenge is a new assessment procedure that can give some valuable assessment data. Not so sure I completely believe in it yet, however am using it before all my MBS’s to test the validity on my own terms.

 5. When you complete an MBSS, don’t focus on aspiration, penetration, premature spillage, etc. Those are merely symptoms of a bigger dysfunction. You need to look at all the functions of all the structures and report on those. Yes, the person may aspirate, but why and what are you going to treat?? Bonnie Martin-Harris is publishing and providing CE courses next year on the MBSImP, which will be a standardized manner, in which to assess swallowing function during the MBS.

 6. NEVER, ever, ever upgrade a patient diet on a Friday, leave for the weekend, and come back on Monday to check how they are doing?? Doctors do not start a new medication then leave the person hanging for days on end. How can you functionally assess a person’s ability to manage the diet upgrade if you are not there to monitor??

 7. I so very often see therapists treat, by sitting with a patient at a meal, watching them eat, assisting with compensations and strategies and then doing the cookbook oral motor exercises with the patient. Don’t get me wrong, oral motor exercises can be functional, as a home exercise program in addition to ACTUAL swallowing therapy and compensations/strategies have their place, but they are not therapy. These compensations/strategies and OME do not promote the muscle changes required to constitute rehabilitation, which is what we do. You cannot improve the swallow without having the patient complete swallowing tasks.

 It is often debated, what do we, as SLP’s call ourselves?? Some demand Speech Pathologists, Speech Language Pathologists, Speech Therapists, etc. I prefer Speech Therapist, because I rehabilitate people.

 My challenge to everyone is to examine yourself and your therapy. Look at how you assess patients, how you complete the instrumental exam, how you treat patients with dysphagia. Ask yourself, what am I doing for my patient, what SHOULD I be doing for my patient and how can I do better for my patients, to rehabilitate their swallowing mechanism and therefore do my job and make my patient better??