Imagine a treatment that can help millions of Americans, keeping them healthier and improving their way of life. VitalStim Therapy, which aides against the inability to swallow, is doing just that, treating more than 800,000 patients since 2002.
It’s an important breakthrough against a condition that affects at least one of every 17 Americans. Dysphagia, or the inability to swallow, is an often under diagnosed condition that can lead to aspiration pneumonia, choking, chronic malnutrition, severe life threatening dehydration and other complications. The condition is especially prevalent among older Americans. Studies suggest that up to 75 percent of nursing home residents and up to half of all Americans age 60 and older will experience dysphagia at some point in their life.
Treatment of dysphagia in the past typically meant the insertion of a feeding tube, but VitalStim Therapy changes that. This treatment uses neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) to re-educate the throat muscles needed for swallowing. The non-invasive external electrical stimulation therapy is administered by certified clinicians. The electrode treatment continues until swallowing patterns have been restored to an optimum level.
Most patients see dramatic improvements in six to 20 hourly sessions. Meghan Batt, a speech language pathologist at Liberty Home Care, has seen the difference up close.
“The results have been very positive,” she said. “I’ve treated some patients who couldn’t take any food at all, and now they can.”
Batt cautions that not all cases of dysphagia can be cured with VitalStim Therapy, but studies have shown that in more than one-third of severe dysphagia cases, patients were able to have their swallowing fully restored through the treatment. The use of VitalStim Therapy also is expected to create significant savings in the healthcare industry. Feeding supplies for patients such as tubes and other equipment costs more than $600 million a year, and the total cost of dysphagia is more than $1 billion a year.
While thousands of patients have been helped through VitalStim Therapy since it was approved by the FDA in 2002, it is not yet available through many health care providers. Liberty Home Care, which offers a personalized assessment for each patient, expects to have more and more patients use the technology.
“We have trained professionals who are certified to give such treatments,” she said. “With the success of the program, I think the number of patients who receive treatment will continue to grow.”