Swallowing Therapy for MND: An Overview

We often take actions like eating and drinking for granted. For people with conditions like Motor Neuron Disease, however, these simple acts can pose significant challenges. Weakened muscles in the mouth make it harder for food to be chewed and swallowed properly, which can be distressful and potentially harmful for the patient. Luckily, the best therapy for MND includes a variety of swallowing therapy options to address this. Let’s take a closer look.

Understanding Motor Neuron Disease

Motor neuron diseases are a group of neurodegenerative disorders that selectively affect motor neurons – cells that control all the voluntary muscles of the body. These muscles are responsible for performing movements under one’s will and thus, motor neuron diseases impact one’s ability to perform voluntary movements.

Swallowing difficulties with Motor Neuron Disease

Swallowing activates both the voluntary and the involuntary muscles. Muscles in the lips, tongue, and jaw work to retain food and saliva in the mouth for proper chewing and preparation for swallowing, while the automatic reflex conveys the food down the throat to the stomach for digestion. In a patient with MND, nerve damage means that these muscles are unable to work properly, which can cause problems with chewing, swallowing, and saliva accumulation.

Difficulties with swallowing may be hard to notice at first. You may feel certain changes in the way you eat and swallow, such as

  • A feeling of food being stuck in the throat
  • A need to swallow more frequently to clear food or saliva
  • Coughing or gagging while consuming food or beverages
  • Drooling or leaking food from the mouth
  • A choking feeling

It is important to identify these signs as early as possible and sign up for swallowing therapy for MND to avoid more complications later. 

Swallowing therapy techniques for MND

If an MND patient is experiencing swallowing difficulties, their doctor will recommend them to a specialized healthcare team, including

  • A speech therapist to teach proper swallowing techniques
  • A dietitian to select foods that will allow for adequate nutrition and weight maintenance while accommodating swallowing needs
  • An Occupational Therapist to teach the use of various aids to safer eating and drinking

Some of the aids that are commonly recommended as part of the best therapy for MND include:

  • Head supports: These are useful in case neck weakness is causing the head to fall and inhibiting eating
  • Valved straw: This reduces the difficulty of sucking liquids by keeping the liquid near the top of the straw
  • Oral suction unit: This helps clear the mouth of accumulated food particles and saliva 
  • Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG): This is a special procedure for patients who find it excessively difficult to swallow – a tube is inserted straight into the stomach, whereby food and fluids can be passed 

Tips to eat and swallow with MND

To ensure that you get adequate nutrition while also enjoying your meals, here are some lifestyle tips to consider:

  • Sit upright and face forward while eating
  • Avoid distractions like talking or TV
  • Eat in small mouthfuls, and take small sips of beverages
  • Chew properly using the techniques taught
  • Try out different types of food, including textures and temperatures, to assess the easiest for you to swallow
  • Try blending foods into a smoothie texture for easier swallowing
  • Avoid crumbly or excessively dry foods
  • If you have trouble swallowing thin liquids, consider adding thickeners to them
  • Take your therapist’s advice on high-calorie items that you can easily consume to meet your nutritional needs
  • Continue to sit upright for about 20 minutes after a meal
  • Take good care of your teeth so that you can chew and swallow better
  • Get frequent check-ups to ensure that your airways are clear and that you are not at risk of a chest infection

Swallowing difficulties can inhibit eating habits and be a source of stress, but there are a variety of treatments available to tackle this. By gaining awareness on swallowing therapy for MND beforehand, you can work with your therapist to implement safe techniques and assistive devices so that you can still enjoy all the foods and beverages that you love. 

Dr Na'eem Sadiq is a respected stem cell specialist at Plexus, and a prominent neurologist in Bangalore. He studied neurology and clinical neurophysiology in London, and worked with some of the most prestigious medical institutions in England, and the Middle East. He completed his MBBS at Bellary Government Medical College, and a postgraduate degree in psychiatry from NIMHANS in Bangalore.

Dr Na'eem has perfected his knowledge and expertise in Continuing medical education (CME), and training in tissue culture, Stem Cell Therapy, and neurology. Dr Na'eem Sadiq possesses an undying passion to improve people’s lives. This led to the creation of Plexus, a neuro and Stem Cell Research centre in Bangalore in neurosurgery, and neurorehabilitation.