Palliative vs. Rehabilitative Approaches to Dysphagia

Updated on August 26, 2023

This year alone in the United States, more than 15 million residents will experience some form of dysphagia—the inability to swallow. That’s nearly 1 in 25 people with difficulty breathing as they struggle to swallow food and drink. Once someone passes the age of 50, the chances of suffering from dysphagia climb to 1 in 5. That’s a tremendous number of seniors forced to endure discomfort rooted in swallowing. 

Left untreated, even minor dysphagia will worsen. It’s a condition that’s both prevalent and severe. Worse still, dysphagia as a complication of broader health problems makes it a condition that’s difficult to anticipate and one that requires an individualized level of treatment when it arises. 

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What Is dysphagia?

Several ailments can lead to dysphagia, and it’s often a symptom or result of a broader physical issue. For example, dysphagia can result from physical trauma like a head injury or stroke. It might also occur as a result of cancer or certain gastrointestinal diseases, such as GERD.

Dysphagia translates to difficulty swallowing, but that medical definition sounds much more innocuous than the affliction itself. In reality, dysphagia is extremely hard on sufferers. Dysphagia patients often choke while they eat, eject food through their nose or feel the persistent sensation of something caught in their throat. 

Fortunately, there’s a growing body of treatments for dysphagia, such as Isometric progressive resistance oropharyngeal (I-PRO) therapy. There are also established medical devices like Swallow STRONG for dysphagia rehabilitation therapy and palliative care.

Rehabilitative care: bounce back strong

When the body is put through physical trauma, like a brain injury or stroke, a person may briefly lose the ability to swallow. In these cases, it’s possible to conquer dysphagia with enough treatment and therapy.

As patients re-train their body to swallow, a speech-language pathologist advises them on exercises to help restore lingual function, such as pressing the tongue against the roof of the mouth or practicing swallowing motions. In the past—and in the case of several types of physical therapy—doctors had to take it on faith that their patients were completing their recovery exercises not just routinely but properly, as well. Thanks to dysphagia medical devices, that’s changed, and quantifiable information is now available to help patients rehabilitate.

For example, pressure sensors built into mouthpieces can record the pressure the tongue puts on the roof of the mouth and provide immediate feedback. This lets the patient know if they’re meeting the goals set by their speech pathologist. The simple and intuitive setup not only helps patients complete their therapy more effectively and accurately, it also records the results for posterity. A speech pathologist can chart patient progress over the course of a treatment schedule and make sure rehabilitation progresses accordingly. 

The result is more efficient rehabilitative care, with measurably better results. 

Palliative care: maintaining quality of life

Few health problems are more disruptive than dysphagia. Though it is by no means a death sentence on its own, dysphagia can make it enormously challenging to get adequate nutrition or maintain lung function. 

Often, healthcare professionals are forced to resort to supplying nutrients to patients intravenously or through a feeding tube. For those patients who are conscious and coherent, both an IV and a feeding tube can prove extremely invasive. What’s more, prolonged use of an IV or feeding tube can cause a number of secondary issues that weren’t present before—namely infection.

Using medical devices designed specifically for dysphagia palliative care, healthcare professionals can work with patients to minimize the harmful effects and improve quality of life. By focusing on increasing the effectiveness of their swallow function, patients retain the ability to feed themselves even as they’re battling conditions. It also has the added benefit of not promoting potential complications—for example, no IV port means no risk of infection or skin irritation. 

Implemented successfully, palliative care has the potential to deliver drastic improvement to a dysphagia patient’s quality of life. It can make all the difference for patients with mouth and throat cancers, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and other neurological diseases, where dysphagia is made even more difficult due to the primary condition. 

Embrace the future

Whether for rehabilitative or palliative care, dysphagia medical devices provide a non-invasive solution to addressing this highly prevalent condition. They help caregivers establish routine treatments for their patients using state-of-the-art technologies, and can ensure dysphagia sufferers get individualized treatment based on quantifiable results. It culminates in a more effective way to help them relearn the swallowing action or to improve their dignity and quality of life as they cope with a chronic or terminal illness. 

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.