The joy of eating…again

December 07, 2017

​Breaking bread together with friends and family is one of life’s great joys. However, when the part of the brain that controls swallowing is injured, eating food or drinking liquids can become difficult. Those with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) cannot have food or liquids by mouth; instead, they get their nourishment in other ways, such as tube feeding.

A new treatment tool is helping people with dysphagia learn to swallow again. The Abilex® Oral Motor Exerciser safely stimulates and exercises parts of the oral cavity to strengthen the lips, tongue, jaw and mouth and to maintain the flexibility and coordination of the tongue. It was designed by Dr. Ruth Martin, a professor at Western University’s School of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

“Sometimes those with a brain injury may have a period of confusion known as post-traumatic amnesia,” says Stephanie Muir-Derbyshire, a speech language pathologist (SLP) in the Acquired Brian Injury (ABI) program at St. Joseph’s Health Care London’s Parkwood Institute. “This means they may have difficulty forming memories, which makes it challenging for them to follow the swallowing exercises that help them learn to safely eat again.”

The inpatient ABI program at Parkwood Institute was a test site for the Abilex®. Here Phil Baddams, a truck driver who sustained a traumatic brain injury in a motor vehicle accident, was the first patient to try the twice-daily, therapist-guided exercises with the Abilex®. “When a swallowing assessment at the end of the three week trial period using the Abilex® revealed Phil could once again swallow safely, he was delighted to eat his first meal by mouth in five months,” says Parkwood Institute SLP Connie Ferri.

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Pictured: Speech-Language Pathologists Connie Ferri, left, and Stephanie Muir-Derbyshire with Phil Baddams who was able to eat again after not having any foods or liquids by mouth for 5 months, after using the Abilex® device for three weeks.

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