Difficulty Swallowing? New Treatment Could Be the Answer

A new treatment is helping patients recover from this potentially life-threatening condition.

Marlene Farwell's 85-year-old mother, Grace, has suffered two strokes, the second one robbing her of the ability to swallow.

Marlene says, "Her tongue swelled to the roof of her mouth and she could no longer swallow. This woman was totally unable to take any kind of food well; she had nothing."

After failed attempts with traditional swallowing therapy, Marlene is turning to Vitalstim. It's a new technology, speech pathologists say is successfully in helping stroke patients just like Grace.

Crystal Webber, a speech language pathologist, says, "What it does is works the muscles in the throat to help patients who can't swallow or have difficulty swallowing. It helps the muscles in the throat contract and makes swallowing easier and better."

Vitalstim therapy uses a small electrical current that passes through the neck to stimulate weak or inactive swallowing muscles. Experts say the treatment is painless.

Webber explains, "They'll feel like a tingle, then they feel a little burn because it's reaching the sensory part of their skin, the nerves and everything. Then we go to where they feel a hug or a grab."

It’s giving Marlene's mom the chance to get rid of the feeding tubes once and for all. Vitalstim is recommended for stroke victims, patients with Parkinson's disease, and patients with head and neck cancer.