Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Difficult to swallow!

An earlier blog post looked at Sumathi Sinnapan's vital-stim therapy. I want to look at her personal pioneering plight as she brings the practise to Britain.

Introducing anything new is always hard. People like familiar, tried and tested systems and methods in just about anything. However, the only way we can progress or move forwards is to make alternations, look for better alternatives and analyse what works.

One of the little known areas that speech and language therapists (SLTs) work with is dysphagia which is an inability to swallow. This means all eating and drinking could be banned to prevent life-threatening choking.
Imagine if you had a head injury (which could happen at any time!) or stroke, which made normal eating or drinking impossible. How would it affect  your social life, could you still go to restaurants, bars, pubs? What would you do at the theatre or football match during the break? Family life would be completely changed too; no Sunday lunches with everyone round. You would probably just want to avoid food and drink situations all together.

Vital-stim involves electro-muscular stimulation administered by a speech and language therapist. This is usually the domain of physios but they only go as far as the neck and don't study the larynx. SLTs on the other hand spend hours studying the larynx but they don't traditionally use muscle stimulation techniques. This is the problem; the SLTs governing body The Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists have not been persuaded by the trials so far, despite an apparent wealth of evidence from the US and Asia to support it as a method.

Sumathi came across the principle while working in Asia, she looked into it and decided it was extremely convincing.

Sumathi has her work cut out to enable patients to be able to add this therapy as a choice to treat their dysphagia and to make Vital-stim a natural option for clinicians. She has a steep hill to climb but with something so important it's essential she carries on despite many set backs so far. She has invested a great deal of time, money and personal reputation. I wish her every success!!

Glenys Watkins and Sumathi Sinnappan with Vital Stim equipment
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