Medical Minute 3-17: Parkinson's Patients Swallow Easier

By: Ramin Khalili Email
By: Ramin Khalili Email

Simple sipping and everyday eating were too tough for 76-year-old John Schmidt. Parkinson's disease stole his ability to use his mouth and jaw.

"Everybody who has Parkinson's … is affected … in a little bit of a different way," he said.

Imagine losing control of the 50-pairs of muscles you use to swallow. It happens to 50% of Parkinson's patients, or about 250,000. It kept John from swallowing his meds, 44-pills a day.

"For me to be left out - yeah, I don't like it. Yes, very frustrating."

"There's no machine you can go to at a gym to strengthen the muscles of breathing," said Christine Sapienza, Ph.D.,
University of Florida.

So the University of Florida's Doctor Christine Sapienza invented one.
The expiratory muscle strength training device - or EMST - is designed to build and boost lung pressure. Inside is a calibrated valve that won't open until the user generates enough lung pressure.

Basically, it works like a pin in a weight machine. 33% of people who tested this device improved their ability to swallow. It's the only device in the U.S. proven to reduce airway invasion in Parkinson's patients during swallowing.

"What we have found is that those muscles, in those diseased states - respond to strengthening," said Dr. Sapienza.

John's body responded quickly. And those pesky pills, they're no problem now.

"Forty-four pills, I take, two, three at a time. A little water and they go right down, no problem whatsoever."

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,

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