When Drummond resident Joe Brady saw the love of his life Dolores drop below 100-pounds, he was scared for her life. At first, he thought it was tied to her current battle against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. But, when it came time for her annual physical, he was surprised by what Chequamegon Clinic doctor Monica Lee had to say.
“She referred Dolores to a speech therapist. It never even occurred to me that the reason for her weight loss could be tied to a throat issue,” he says.
But, during that first appointment, Joe learned that a lot of her weight loss stemmed from her inability to chew and swallow food effectively.
“The first time I saw Dolores, it would take about 90-secounds for her to eat one bite of food,” Memorial Medical Center Speech Therapist JoAnn Cahill, MA/CCC-SLP remembers. “By the time she had taken a few bites, she would be exhausted and quit eating. Parkinson’s had inhibited the strength and mobility of her oral motor structure, which includes cheeks, tongue, lip, palette, teeth and other muscles involved in swallowing.”
In addition, a build-up inside her mouth had created dry mouth conditions, resulting in food tasting extremely bland and weakening her ability to move food through her mouth and to the back of her throat.
Cahill says this type of build-up isn’t uncommon, especially among individuals with Parkinson’s. It is often a symptom of Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases or issues, as well as something that occurs as you age. While treatable, the longer it goes unnoticed, the more difficult it is to remedy. In Dolores’ case, the build-up was substantial but not irreversible. Once addressed, Cahill began working with the couple to develop some throat exercises that would improve the strength and fluidity of the oral motor structures involved in chewing and swallowing. But, this was just the beginning.
“We always try to take an interdisciplinary approach to care at MMC,” Cahill says. “I knew that exercise and increasing her caloric intake would help her recovery so I referred her to one of our dietitians and an occupational therapist.”
Together, the team has coordinated efforts to increase calories, day-to-day activities and her appetite. Joe says he immediately noticed a changed in Dolores once this plan was in place. “They really put the puzzle pieces together,” he says. “When we started, I estimate she was eating maybe 250 calories per day. Now she’s gaining about 1 pound per week instead of losing 2.”
More importantly, she’s able to continue her treatment plan at home. “I know if we had continued down the path we were, she’d either be in a nursing home or the hospital,” Joe says. “Instead, she’s at home with me where I can continue to take care of her.”
Cahill says a team approach, beginning with primary care recognizing the symptoms and making the referral, is what made the difference. She also credits the patient’s role in the process, which is one of the things she loves most about her day-to-day work.
“People like Dolores and her caregiver Joe is why I love my job and working at MMC. I get to help people increase and maintain their functionality, not just with swallowing but language and cognition as well, contributing to them maintaining their health and independence.”
And for Joe, he’s forever grateful to this approach to care. “You don’t always appreciate and know what the staff has to offer,” he says. “But, when you need them, they are here waiting for you with the people and expertise to make things better.”
MMC is the area’s largest credentials team of Speech, Occupational and Physical Therapists and accepts patients from all clinics. If you are in need of services, be sure to ask your physician for a referral to Rehab Services of MMC. Or, call us at 715-685-5462.