Swallowing Disorders May Be Treated With Video Games


Millions of people have been diagnosed with dysphagia or difficulty swallowing. This condition is linked to a problem with the esophagus or throat, which are part of the gastrointestinal tract, along with the oral cavity, pharynx, tongue and other major organs located in the abdominal area. The esophagus is a muscular tube that measures between 25-30 centimeters in length, located just behind the trachea or windpipe.


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Dysphagia is most often linked to the elderly, infants and individuals, who have been diagnosed with a central nervous system (CNS) disorder. The issues linked to the esophagus or throat not working properly may be minor or very serious, with some being a temporary condition and others permanent. Dysphagia is a common effect of a stroke, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Inoka Tennakoon, a speech therapist at the Lorien Health skilled nursing facility in Columbia, has been incorporating video games and Virtual Reality Technology in dysphagia treatment and management. The speech therapists believe the interaction between the patient and video game has a positive effect on treatment. They receive instant feedback, since the patient’s response will determine whether or not they succeed in the game. If the patient doesn’t swallow enough pureed or solid foods, then they do not succeed.

The therapists utilize a serious of rehabilitation exercises, including lip pressing, sipping through a straw, jaw grading and effortful swallowing. An accelerometer sensor is placed on the patient’s neck, feeding the instant feedback directly to a computer. Tennakoon said the patient does the exercise in sets of 25 repetitions. The video games are utilized to enhance the treatment process, keeping the patient engaged.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, nearly one in every 25 adults, living in the United States, will experience a swallowing problem each year. Severe stroke patients will require intubation and mechanical ventilation, which can also damage or weaken the muscles. Aspiration pneumonia, a serious lung infection, is a major complication of dysphagia, with nearly 60,000 patients dying each year due to the complications of the condition.

The computer system referred to as “Synchrony” is utilized to test a variety of swallowing functions. The Accelerated Care Plus Corp. developed Synchrony, incorporating games that are controlled by the patient. For example, oral and isometric motor skills are tested, while the patient moves an animated diver up and down to collect pearls.

The Synchrony computer system also utilizes a stimulator, which is attached to the patient’s cheek with electrodes, stimulating the nerves that connect to the brain stem. This system surpasses the traditional therapy by a mile and it has proven to be very effective in treating dysphagia.

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