Be the Change

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Let’s face it, we’re not all leaders. Some of us are happy going to our jobs and just done at the end of the shift. Many of us tend to get on social media and complain about issues that we feel are out of our control.

The problem is that just voicing our concerns on social media does not solve the problems. We have to look beyond ASHA and our boss to make these changes.  Now don’t get me wrong, ASHA, management, your state association can be a great start.

You might be asking what are some of these gripes and complaints. Productivity is the big one. We are often asked to work billable time for the majority of our day not allowing us any break for consultation or paperwork that is required of us.  How many of us go in to work,  clock out to maintain our productivity while completing paperwork, making phone calls or some of the necessary but not billable time possible while maintaining 90% productivity or more.   Maybe the reason the productivity expectations exist and the reason that it keeps getting higher is because people are actually meeting these standards. When we give 100% the next expectation will be 110%.

So maybe we can sit and stew about the fact that I’m working on my own time or maybe I can join my state association or ASHA and help bring about change to that productivity.

Another frequent complaint is the lack of instrumental assessment.  Some facilities will not allow instrumental assessment,  however have you presented the cost associated with an pneumonia or with any re-hospitalization compared to the cost of an instrumental assessment?  How can you possibly build an accurate plan of care for your patient when you can’t assess your patient?

When we actually think outside the box that’s when we can get things done.

Continue to educated yourself.  Stop being so complacent with your job.  Stop using non-evidenced based practice and the same oral motor exercises that have been used for 25 years.  Keep up with new practices.  Be a champion and advocate for yourself and for the profession you hopefully love.

When you start standing up for yourself and demonstrating efficiency and competence in your job is when we can show other medical professionals the value in the Speech Language Pathologist in the area of dysphagia.

Stop just posting to gripe on social media and make a change!!

Measuring Lingual Range of Motion

For so long, we have focused on lingual strength and range-of-motion.

The Iowa Oral Performance Instrument (IOPI),  the SwallowStrong and the Tongue Press have all been developed to give us visual and numeric strength measurements of the tongue.

We finally have a measurement scale for lingual range of motion.

C.L. Lazarus, H. Husaini, A.S. Jacobson, J.K. Mojica, D. Buchbinder, K. Okay, M.L. Urken.  Development of a New Lingual Range-of-Motion Assessment Scale, Normative Data in Surgically Treated Oral Cancer Patients.  Dysphagia (2014) 29:489-499.

This study compared results in treated surgical patients vs. healthy patients.   36 patients s/p oral tongue surgery with significantly decreased tongue range-of-motion and 31 healthy individuals.

The scale was validated by correlating range-of-motion with performance status, oral outcomes and patient-related Quality of Life.

The scale was made to define lingual deficits.  This is a tool that can be used for baseline and post surgery tongue range-of-motion and to track changes over time with recovery and therapy.

Lingual protrusion was measured using the Therabite jaw range-of-motion measurement discs.

Protrusion Scores:  (100) Normal:  > or = 15 mm past the upper lip margin

(50)   Mild-mod:  >1mm but <15mm pasat the upper lip margin

(25)   Severe:  Some movement but unable to reach upper lip margin

(0)     Total:  No movement

Lateralization Scores:  based on ability of the tongue to touch the commissures of the mouth.  Measure both right and left side.
(100)  Normal:                      able to fully touch the corner of the mouth.
(50)    Mild-Moderate:  50% reduction of movement to corner of the mouth                                                in either direction.
(25)    Severe:  >50%           reduction in movement.
(0)      Total:                          No movement.

Elevation Scores:    

(100)  Normal:  complete tongue tip contact with the upper alvoelar                                       ridge.
(50)    Moderate:  tongue tip elevation but no contact with the upper                                       alvoelar ridge.
(0)      Severe:  No visible tongue tip elevation

Total Scores were assigned by adding the protrusion score+ right lateralization score + left lateralization score + elevation score divided by 4.

Scores were 0-100:      

0=severely impaired/totally impaired
25=Severly impaired
50=mild-moderate impairment
100=normal

During this study, tongue strength was measured using the Iowa Oral Performance Instrument.

Jaw range-of-motion was measure using the Therabite jaw range-of-motion measurement discs.

Saliva flow was measured using the Saxon test where the patient was asked to chew a sterile 4×4 piece of gauze for 2 minutes then spit the gauze in a cup.  The gauze was weighed before and after mastication.

The Performance Status Scale was used to determine diet type, speech uderstandability, impact of surgery on ability to eat socially.

Quality of Life was measured using the Eating Assessment Tool-10 (EAT-10), MD Anderson Dysphagia Inventory (MDADI) and Speech Handicap Index (SHI).

The study found that lingual range-of-motion can negatively affect all aspects of a patient’s life and correlates with performance and quality of life.

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??

My Patient had Their Modified, Now What Do I Do?

Once upon a time, I worked in a setting and had to send my patients out for the MBSS. Now, I am able to complete my own MBSS. One thing I take into account when I am doing an MBSS for another SLP is making sure they get a complete study. I have actually gone to several CE courses regarding MBSS in the last 2 years. When I say a complete MBSS, I don’t mean that I test 15 different foods using every strategy known to man per spoon, cup, straw, syringe or whatever else I can think of to feed the patient. When I say complete, I mean that I try to find the dysfunction, the abnormality of the swallowing mechanism. I used to get those reports that stated patient so and so aspirated thin liquids with non-functional cough, chin tuck did not eliminate, blah blah blah. That doesn’t tell me WHY the patient is aspirating and what I need to focus my therapy on to STOP the aspiration.

 If you are one of those clinicians that have to send your patient out and rely on another clinician to complete your MBSS there are ways to interpret what the therapist is writing into muscle dysfunction.

 First, let’s look at the oral phase. You have to look at lip closure. You know that if the person drools or has anterior spillage of the bolus, there are probably some labial seal issues, so you are going to work some on that orbiularis oris and labial seal with resistive labial exercises. The tongue has to move the bolus from side to side, recollect the bolus on the tongue and push it back, pushing up against the palate to create pressure to push the bolus. If the patient has poor bolus formation, residue in the sulci, premature spillage, they are probably not getting good bolus formation, they probably have a weak tongue. If there is reported residue on the tongue and/or palate, they probably are not getting enough tongue-palate contact. You are going to work on resistive lingual exercises. Pocketing in the lateral sulci will indicate poor buccal strength, decreased tension. Resistive cheek exercises are a must.

 Premature spillage can indicate that back of the tongue is weak and the tongue is weak and not holding the bolus in a cohesive manner. Again, resistive lingual exercises, Masako, effortful swallow will all focus on the back of the tongue. Pharyngeal residue will always indicate decreased tongue base retraction and may indicate decreased pharyngeal stripping wave. Again, to strengthen that part of the swallow, I use the effortful swallow, large, thick bolus swallows. Penetration/Aspiration is going to indicate poor hyolaryngeal excursion, which can be any of the three areas including anterior motion of the hyoid, laryngeal elevation and hyoid/thyroid approximation or laryngeal closure. There is really quite a bit of information needed here, how long does the closure last, when are they aspirating. However, if all you get is penetration and/or aspiration you know you need to work on airway protection through the effortful swallow, lingual strengthening (it is attached to the hyoid, which is part of the excursion), Mendelsohn Maneuver. You will also have evidence of decreased airway protection through evidence of decreased epiglottic inversion. If you get a report of pyriform sinus residue, there is possibly an issue with Pharyngeal Esophageal Segment (PES/UES) opening. Now, the PES is opened through Hyolaryngeal excursion and the force of the bolus. The bolus is pushed through the oropharyngeal region by pressure of the tongue, so for PES opening issues, I work on lingual strengthening, Shaker, Mendelsohn, effortful swallow and change the bolus size and consistency.

 Many times, I have observed therapists altering patient diets, teaching chin tuck, double swallow, etc. While I agree that we have those patients that diet alterations, compensations are appropriate, we also have those patients that have the potential for rehabilitation that don’t want to look at their lap every time they swallow. I know I wouldn’t want that.

 As therapists, we have to become better at not only investigating and determining the dysfunction of the swallow, but at writing the report so that other clinicians can TREAT the dysphagia. We don’t treat symptoms. I can’t treat aspiration. In fact, many people CAN, in fact have dysphagia without aspiration or penetration. Think of how short a time we have the patient in radiology. Who knows that they weren’t going to aspirate the next bite that we never gave. We can, however, determine that the patient has decreased laryngeal elevation, with or without penetration/aspiration and TREAT that. We can determine that the patient has decreased lingual strength, (which will probably affect a huge portion of the swallow) and TREAT that.

 My modifieds have changed drastically. I don’t test every consistency. I test thin, nectar, honey-if absolutely necessary, pudding and cookie. I’m not looking for every consistency and what they do with it. I’m looking at the dysfunction of the swallowing mechanism. Once we start doing that, we become competent in what we do.

Modified Barium Swallow Study……Part 2

I was recently directed to a blog post by Clinical Colleagues Confidential. regarding Modified Barium Swallow Studies (MBSS).

 The title of the blog post is:

 I have all the answers but nobody is asking me any questions

The original blog post can be found at:  http://cccslp.net/whats-the-frequency-3/

 This is part 2, because I recently wrote a post about MBSS.

 Being an SLP that actually completes MBSS, I felt I needed to address some of these issues comments.

1) I stopped the MBS because I was afraid the patient would aspirate.  Patients aspirate……it happens.  They have probably been aspirating for a long time prior to your study.  If you are afraid of aspiration, how can you assess the patient’s true swallow function?

2) The patient was coughing so I changed him to pudding at bedside.  Patients cough.  You need to check the patient’s meds (some actually cause a cough) and trial a consistency more than once to determine if the consistency is causing the cough.  It is also helpful if you use an instrumental exam such as FEES or MBSS to determine the physiology of the swallow.

3) I didn’t try thin during the MBS because at the nursing home he was already on nectar so I started there.  I use the protocol employed by the MBSImP.  Thin is tested.  I don’t stray from my consistencies.  I use thin, nectar, pureed and cookie with every patient (unless there is a very valid reason to not do a certain consistency).

There are many pieces of information you can use when you assess thin that you don’t get from nectar.  That’s why I don’t skip it.

4) There’s no speech at nursing homes so I put her on the safest diet; puree and pudding thick.  Who says that pureed and pudding thick is the safest.  Sometimes thick is not necessarily better.  Many people eat safely, millions in fact without the presence of speech.  You should not punish your patient because of lack of SLP.

5) A suspected timing delay of the epiglottis might be present and could lead to aspiration even though none was apparent on the MBS but to be safe I recommend nectar thick liquids.  If you did the MBSS, you should know if there is a delay of the epiglottis or not.  You SHOULD be assessing the epiglottis.  You should also know that epiglottic movement is indicative of hyolaryngeal excursion.  Sometimes you don’t see aspiration on the MBSS but you should be looking at airway protection and hyolaryngeal excursion which is an indicator.

 6) I didn’t want to recommend something they might aspirate and get sued.

I wish there was no number 6. Sadly, I think it is the driving force behind many of the recommendations. But, I would spread some words of caution to my peers, especially the younger ones. The only thing that avoids litigation is luck. The thing that wins litigation is expertise and documentation.

If you make a swallowing recommendation in isolation of the needs of whole patient to save him from aspiration pneumonia and he goes into renal failure…that’s a big problem.  I agree….documentation is key.  If you document that the patient appears safe, that is your finding.  You should be confident in your skills and you should be effective in your skills in completing MBSS.  This is not an area we can make a mistake because that can put your patient at high risk for pneumonia, respiratory issues, maybe death.  You recommend what’s appropriate for that patient without worry about litigation.

We seriously need to take a look at our profession.  WE are the experts in dysphagia.  We need to demonstrate our skills as experts.  Dysphagia is not an area we can “tinker” in.  

I highly recommend that any SLP completing MBSS that has made any of the above statements, take the Modified Barium Swallow Impairment Profile (MBSImP) by Bonnie Martin Harris.  This is becoming the gold standard for standardization of modifieds.  

Our responsibility as SLPs completing MBSS is to determine the physiology and etiology of the swallow/dysphagia.  We need to determine what is functioning and what is not functioning in the oropharyngeal mechanism.  Our job is not to state aspiration or penetration or….I coulnd’t do that because I was scared of this.  Our job is to state epiglottic dysfunction, lingual dysfunction, decreased laryngeal elevation, decreased arytenoid movement, and so on.  

SLPs need to take a stand and become experts in the area of dysphagia.