Six Vocal Myths: Practical Therapy Applications

boy eating pizza

We all have a tree of knowledge that represents the intricate experiences that make each of us different and wonderful. Our branches stretch, flower and die only to grow into a more complex labyrinth of information. Once this tree is rooted in ideals, it is difficult to pull out any of the roots, especially if they have been supporting a perfectly healthy tree for many years.

I like science. I find a certain solace in knowing that a randomized control trial was completed in order to prove that I’m not just making you hum through a straw for fun. On the other hand, I completely give merit to the occurrences you can’t explain or rationalize. Some very important moments in my life, especially in my speech-language pathology career, cannot be measured and explained scientifically.

When I was younger, I was petrified that eating before a performance would screw it all up. I can remember vividly, sitting at a Texas Music Educators Association competition as a kid near me consumed an entire slice of pepperoni pizza before disappearing into his audition room. He leaned over and smiled, “It’s always good luck for me.” I was aghast, and I hope my face did not reflect what was going on in my head. Food? I thought. Before singing? NEVER! But, why did I believe so strongly that the voice gods would shun me if I ate a bite of anything? Should superstitions be revered? Is it really all in my head?

I posed that question to a few forums I belong to, both vocal pedagogy and vocal pathology. Along with comments and emails that flooded my inbox, the University of Minnesota and Truman State University brought me a study by Julia Edgar and Deirdre Michael that surveyed almost 400 singers about their beliefs in vocal health. The only thing everyone could really agree on? A whopping 97 percent believed that warming up before performing benefits the voice. That’s it. The rest of the answers were as scattered as an Admission, Review, and Dismissal team after the final meeting before summer break.

I pulled together the most interesting beliefs and did my best to find scientific evidence to aid in proving or refuting. I have questions from the professional singers I treat about many of these subjects, so what better way to debunk the myths? What I found was that many people hold their beliefs dear and are not willing to lend an ear to anything that might refute what gets them through a gig. So, what are we as SLPs to do? Do we believe in Grandma Sue’s recipes? Do we believe in science? Do we believe in experience? Do we believe in life after love? Sorry, Cher kind of snuck in there.

  1. Smoking marijuana and vaping is not damaging to the vocal folds like cigarettes are Reinke’s Edema, tissue damage in the form of gelatinous goo just below the top layer of the vocal folds, commonly occurs from smoking.  A study here discusses the effects of cigarette smoke on the delicate tissues of the vocal folds. Even the vocal folds of rats changed after passive inhalation of smoke. So that sets you straight…right? Not quite. A student told me that an alarmingly high number of voice performance students at her school claimed smoking marijuana and vapor cigarettes will not damage the vocal folds. Although there are not yet any published studies specifically about the effects of vaping on the vocal cords, a study here found that electronic cigarettes contain less carcinogenic ingredients than their tobacco counterparts, however less does not mean none. There is also concern that propylene glycol irritates the respiratory tract. (PG is just a fancy word for stage smoke.) Despite more than 1,000 studies on electronic cigarettes, conclusions cannot be made on their safety or danger because of contradictions and inconsistencies in methodology. Get it together people…I think people are learning this and deciding ECs are safe to smoke because of the lack of evidence. Perhaps they are fishing for an excuse. Perhaps they are avid consumers of research. In my clinical opinion, you are still inhaling something that is manufactured and exposing your most delicate tissues to foreign materials that may or may not be toxic. An article in the Guardian states that those who smoke ECs think the water vapor is safe, they brush off the PG as an irritant, and smoke them anyway. As for the marijuana, aside from altering perception and most likely performance, it is heated just like cigarette smoke and any smoke will irritate your tissue.

Bottom Line: Smoke can change the composition of your tissue. If you don’t inhale foreign material, your vocal folds will likely maintain their health.

  1. Throat Coat Tea and Entertainer’s Secret are a sore throat cure-allA 2004 study on the effects of laryngeal lubricants, like Entertainer’s Secret, revealed that even if a spray affects the vocal fold vibratory pressure, after 20 minutes it is like you never used it. Throat Coat tea contains slippery elm bark, a demulcent that soothes irritated tissue, and is not FDA approved to cure anything. There are no studies on how it directly affects the voice, but the steam from a hot beverage most likely will topically hydrate your vocal folds as you inhale, so that’s a plus. A hydrating beverage will provide you with internal hydration to lubricate the vocal folds from within the body. Like any pain, though, if your throat is hurting, don’t mask the problem by using numbing spray or another band-aid.  Your body is trying to tell you something and if you silence it, you could injure yourself further. Know your body.  I’m all for throat coat tea, ginger tea, lemon water, whatever–If you say it helps you feel better. I am against using any of that to hide pain so you can perform. If you are not giving your body time to heal, you’ll end up with a bigger problem.

Bottom Line: Using any crutch will usually get you through a performance, but “getting through” something may backfire on you. Instead, try to maintain a balance by keeping your body healthy, listening to it, and caring for your vocal folds even more fervently because you can’t see them.

  1. Whispering is a good idea to save your voice when on vocal rest. I was informed when I received voice therapy myself that I was not allowed to talk or whisper for a week following my surgery. Some people say the real myth is that whispering is as bad as shouting. Is it? For her own voice issues, an SLP who received treatment like me, was told that whispering would save the voice, but she found it to increase fatigue and pain for her. Go figure. Shouting and whispering differ in placement and technique, but whispering can sometimes turn into a hyperfunctional breathy voice where vocal production is made with an incomplete vocal fold closure. Ah, there’s the danger. A study in 2006 examined 100 patients with a fiberoptic camera. Only 70 percent of the patients showed supraglottic hyperfunction while whispering, meaning some of them had no hyperfunction at all. Other muscles are involved in whispering, and people whisper differently, so some studies suggest that whispering, when low in effort, can be considered for post-op patients.

Bottom Line: Whispering could turn into a poor vocal production habit in the majority of patients, so better to avoid it or monitor it closely on a case-by-case basis. If you were to whisper with a completely relaxed larynx, it’s hard to get adequate volume anyway. Tell them to text. Don’t we all have smart phones glued to our thumbs?

  1. Dairy products thicken my mucus. Recent publications have demonstrated that dairy products do nothing to chemically increase mucus production or viscosity, but why does the myth remain? A group of investigators from New York examined 21 individuals, half with asthma and half without, to see if milk increased mucus. It suggested that airway resistance was not altered by milk consumption, so no thicker mucus here. Perhaps if there is a milk allergy, the body will have a reaction to it? That might explain the widely-held belief that mucus will “gunk up vocal cords” and should be avoided. Unfortunately, I could not find any research studies about mucus thickening after eating or drinking dairy. Another study states that some people with asthma may see an improvement after eliminating dairy from their diets, however, it does not definitively prove that mucus production increases because of dairy products.

Bottom Line: You can throw science at your patients, but they may remain convinced that milk will gunk things up. You might be fighting a losing battle, but hey, at least calcium comes from other sources.

  1. Eating or drinking certain foods (or abstaining from them) will improve your performance. Okay, here we are with pizza singing boy again. He obviously thought that the pizza was his golden ticket for the American Idol of Texas choir competitions. Some performers believe licorice before a gig helps improve vocal range. One singer would consume an entire bag of licorice prior to a performance. Is this a placebo? After discussing, he stopped and the range remained the same. Hmm…. What about those singers that tell you eating Lays potato chips will lubricate their throats? Is this only in Nashville? What you eat and drink will not touch your vocal folds, it only touches the tongue, soft palate, throat walls and esophagus. If it is touching your vocal folds, you are aspirating! A recent post on a professional voice teaching thread inquired about what teachers advised singers to drink to lubricate their cords. Home remedies included vinegar, garlic, ginger, olive oil, sugar, and even aloe vera. None of these have scientific evidence that they are harmful to the voice, so if you think it helps, then by all means. Nothing really lubricates the cords from the outside, but drinking hydrating beverages lubricates from the inside, so this is kind of true…kind of…Just make sure you don’t become a yummy snack for your speech therapist if you come in smelling like an Italian dish.

Bottom Line: Hydration, Hydration, Hydration. There is no scientific evidence that certain foods or beverages will improve or hinder your performance. Water will always benefit the friction and heat created by your vocal folds by lubricating them on a cellular level. See also, my previous blog on beta-blockers and performance if your patient is considering anti-anxiety meds along with the olive-oil rub.

  1. Cold beverages, caffeine and alcohol are bad for your voice. A student at one of my lectures saw me drinking ice cold water in my handy Tervis cup. Those things are indestructible and I have one for every day of the week. Obsessed? Maybe. There is no evidence to suggest that cold water is bad for your vocal cords, I told him. Beer actually counts toward hydration, interestingly enough. These researchers found that when you are dehydrated, drinking beer will not only get you drunk, but hydrate you as well. Caffeine was found to usually not impact vocal acoustics if consumed conservatively (100mg), and this study showed that caffeine did not adversely affect voice production at all. Also, not related to voice specifically, this study suggested that coffee even hydrated similarly to water.

Bottom Line: Cold or hot, it’s your choice. And when there’s a choice, go with water over alcohol. Caffeine consumption should be examined along with other factors when recommending cessation in the therapy room. When I look at this, I think, Starbucks? Why not.

We have to be careful when presenting new information. Try hard not to claim information already known to be erroneous. Many established teaching professionals have been molding and creating performers for years, and trying to reveal a “new” truth might be unwelcome. Can we not bridge this gap between pedagogy and therapy? Between art and science? After all, the voice is both, isn’t it? Many SLPs told me they are afraid to challenge any voice teacher because they might get brushed off. I want to change this “challenge” to “suggest.”

If we are cognizant of the training and education of others, we can present information in a way that is not patronizing. And if we are open to new ideas from different sources, (I am so guilty of this too) then we might find that it works in our studios and clinics. One contributor had the most poignant response. “People become defensive sometimes when they are confronted by their own knowledge gaps, but hopefully they’ll internalize the information and emerge the better for having heard it.”

 

Kristie Knickerbocker, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. She provides voice, swallowing and speech therapy in her own private practice, a tempo Voice Center, LLC. She also lectures on the singing voice to area choirs and students. She belongs to ASHA’s Special Interest Group 3-Voice and Voice Disorders. She keeps a blog on her website at www.atempovoicecenter.com. Follow her on Twitter @atempovoice or like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/atempovoicecenter.

CSD Students Use Their Skills in Ethiopia This Month

   

The CSD program at Teachers College Columbia University is in Ethiopia this month visiting schools for students with autism and a center for adults with intellectual disabilities. The TC Team—nine master’s students and three ASHA-certified SLPs: Lisa Edmonds, Jayne Miranda and I—used our experiences in Ghana and Bolivia to prepare for the trip.

At a vocational center for adults with intellectual disabilities the TC Team created “Seller’s Market Cards,” so the adults can independently sell their products. These low-tech Augmentative and Alternative Communication cards, laminated with packing tape, introduce the seller and list products for sale with their prices. We worked with the sellers to create the cards and then immediately tried them out at an impromptu market at the center!

At the Nehemiah Autism School, 20 teachers and our team spent the day collaborating to identify ways to bring more communication opportunities into an otherwise excellent school. We made 70 flash cards for weather, a large calendar, practiced social stories, and talked about ways to introduce literacy and math.

Right now, we’re presenting a five-day cleft palate speech institute at Yekatit 12 Hospital. Smile Train and Transforming Faces supported 14 cleft palate team professionals who attended from East and West Africa.

Please follow our adventures on the blog.  We love to see comments and are just halfway through our trip.

 

Catherine J. Crowley, CCC-SLP, JD, PhD, Distinguished Senior Lecturer in speech-language pathology at Teachers College Columbia University, founded and directs the bilingual/multicultural program focus, the Bilingual Extension Institute, and the Bolivia and Ghana programs. An experienced attorney, Crowley is working with NYCDOE on a multi-year project to improve the accuracy of disability evaluations. 

“Play It Again, Sam”: How the Use of Music is Reawakening the Minds of Many Individuals Battling Dementia.

Man listening to music

To say there has been a recent increase of videos on the web highlighting the power of music with individuals with dementia would be a vast understatement. From caregiver videos flooding YouTube to more carefully crafted films, such as Alive Inside, exploding on the scene, the individual stories being told are nothing short of remarkable.

But what does this mean for us as speech and language pathologists? And what does research say about the overwhelming number of anecdotal stories being touted on the internet? The answer to both questions is, A LOT! Many resources, such as the nonprofit organization MUSIC & MEMORY, now offer an extensive list of research citations that highlight the clinical benefits that listening to music can have on cognition and communication. It’s not just researchers taking notice of the mounting evidence. As the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services makes a push to decrease inappropriate use of antipsychotic drugs in long-term care settings, some of its efforts go toward funding personalized music programs to help address agitation and other behavioral concerns in a non-pharmacological way. Many states are also embracing this approach with great clinical outcomes to report.

So do we all switch professions and become music therapists? Of course not. The need for skilled speech therapists to directly target cognitive-linguistic deficits in long-term care settings is more important now than ever as the aging of our population and the dramatic rise in dementing illness converge, but the research and these dramatic personal stories should make us take pause and reconsider the environments in which we practice. As therapists we have a unique opportunity and perspective to be client advocates.

What information can we share, what videos can we show and whose life can we touch to be a catalyst for change in our communities? Consider your impact and take action today. Still need convincing? Let me leave you with one final image. Watch as Naomi Feil, founder of Validation Therapy, makes a power connection with Ms. Gladys Wilson. I wonder how many speech therapy screen forms were sitting in her medical chart stating she was “non-communicative” when this was filmed.

Robert Maxwell, MA, CCC-SLP is a speech-Language pathologist and clinical specialist for Genesis Rehab Services. He currently chairs the dementia special interest group for Genesis Rehab Services and has presented on the company, local, state and national level with regards to cognitive-linguistic and swallowing deficits related to the dementia population. He can be reached via email at: Robert.Maxwell1@genesishcc.com

Tales From Apraxia Boot Camp

bootcamp
In August of this year, I was selected to be a part of The Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America’s 2014 Intensive Training Institute, otherwise known as “Apraxia Boot Camp.” Twenty-four speech-language pathologists, including myself, trained with three mentors–Ruth Stoeckel, Kathy Jakielski, and Dave Hammer–at Duquesne University over four days. In its third year, the goal of the boot camp is to spread a high level of knowledge about Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) assessment and treatment throughout the United States and Canada. This conference accomplished that and so much more.

This experience was different than any other continuing education seminars that I have attended. We did not listen to speakers discuss CAS. Instead, Ruth, Kathy and Dave became our mentors. This was powerful. They moderated discussions on evaluation and treatment approaches. We reviewed research papers and had long debates on the principles of motor learning. We highlighted and critiqued therapy methods for those brave enough to show videos of themselves. We problem solved and brought up more questions than we knew were possible.

In smaller groups, our mentors provided insights and personal perspectives on how they work. In this intimate setting, we felt comfortable asking questions and sharing our experiences. The mentors shared constructive criticism along with thoughtful suggestions. In all, they made me think, reflect and question everything I do. Why do I give that test? Why do I treat that way? What is the research behind it? They encouraged us to become critical thinkers.

As therapists, we often get used to using the same materials and therapy techniques we learned in graduate school or during our early experiences. Those methods are not always effective with every child we treat nor are they all proven effective with evidence based-research. Specifically, children with CAS require different therapy techniques than other children with articulation or phonological delays.

Ruth, Kathy and Dave provided valuable information in a small, engaging setting. Their mentoring and passion for CAS has inspired me and I hope to pass along this valuable information to others through mentoring, improving my competency in treatment and diagnosis of CAS, and, in the end, helping children to communicate.

Based on my experience, I’d recommend asking yourself a few questions when selecting your next continuing education event:

  • What am I passionate about? Is there a child or an area of speech pathology that truly inspires me?
  • How will it improve my skill set?
  • How will it help me better serve my clients?
  • Who is doing the most current, researched-based evaluation or therapy techniques?
  • How will it further our profession?

 

Amanda Zimmerman, MA, CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in Columbus, OH. She can be reached at azimmerman@columbusspeech.org.

How to Prepare to Speak at ASHA Convention for the First Time

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This year I will be presenting at the ASHA Convention for the first time. The first time I attended an ASHA convention was last year in 2013. I enjoyed the sessions I attended and set a goal to speak at an ASHA convention sometime during my career. Thanks to partnering with amazing SLPs across the country I was able to  propose five sessions for the 2014 convention. Even though I felt that each proposal was an exciting topic, I did not expect all five to be accepted as talks (or get accepted at all). But that is exactly what happened. My first time speaking at the ASHA convention, I will be involved in five sessions. Due to scheduling conflicts, I will be speaking at only four of the sessions (see below for details). So how am I going to prepare for this? Here are three things:

 

1. Stay organized. Juggling the preparation for five sessions is not easy, so organization is key. I am reducing repetitive and inefficient work by only working on presentations at specific times. To respect my fellow presenters, I am communicating when I will be able to complete individual tasks. I schedule my presentation work sessions based on established deadlines.

Working with many co-presenters (all across the country) means many emails about our presentations. I created a file folder in my email for each presentation. I file each email in the presentation’s folder. This keeps everything together in case I need to refer back to details such as deadlines, ideas, to-do lists, and plans.

I have coordinating file folders in Google Drive for document storage (e.g. proposals, slide deck drafts, my presentation notes, etc). All the documents for each presentation are kept together. Since it’s all in the cloud, I won’t leave it behind.

 

2. Reduce inconveniences. The worst part about conventions and traveling for training for me is food. I have Celiac disease and other food allergies. Convention halls aren’t the best venue for finding gluten free, healthy food. Last year I spent $20+ on lunch, when I bought a sandwich with no bread or fries (because they were fried in the same fryer as gluten) and put the meat on top of a salad. I essentially bought 2 lunches to create one lunch (and I was still hungry).

So this time, I am doing myself a favor and anticipating a busy schedule and poor food options. I found a company that will make premade meals and deliver them to my hotel (for a lot less than $20). My hotel room has a fridge, so I will keep the premade meals in the fridge and bring lunch with me. I will not waste time on long lines or risk  getting sick.

 

3. Prepare for fun. The ASHA convention isn’t my first speaking engagement as an SLP. I have been speaking about dementia and ethics in healthcare to my fellow SLPs, other healthcare professionals, students, and family members via webinars, courses, video conferences, etc. I keep doing it because it’s fun! I thoroughly enjoy creating a presentation for a specific audience to help them reach their goals. My career has evolved into spending the majority of my time in an education role. For a former teacher, this is a very welcome evolution.

 

The pre-presentation nervousness comes, but reminding myself that each speaking opportunity is an opportunity for fun and to inspire better dementia treatment and elder care relieves my jitters quickly. I am thankful for each and every opportunity, including the several at ASHA’s convention this year. See you there!

 

Rachel Wynn is one of four guest bloggers for ASHA’s convention in Orlando and will be speaking at the following sessions:

 

Friday, November 21, 2014

  • Clients at risk for suicide: Our experiences and responsibilities (Session Code 1310) 8:00-10:00 a.m.
  • Get out of that box! Four creative mold-breaking models of private practice (Session Code 1441) 3:30-4:30 p.m.

 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

  • Social media for SLPs: Leveraging online platforms to connect and advance your practice (Session Code 1704) 1:00-2:00 p.m. (Not presenting due to scheduling)
  • Dementia 101 for students and new clinicians: Changing lives through a functional approach (Session Code 1720) 1:00-2:00 p.m.
  • Productivity pressures in SNFs: Bottom up and top down advocacy (Session Code 1755) 2:30-3:30pm

 

Rachel Wynn, MS, CCC-SLP, specializes in eldercare, and, as the owner of Gray Matter Therapy, provides education to therapists, healthcare professionals, and families regarding dementia and elder care. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 15 (Gerontology) and an advocate for ethical elder care and improving workplace environments, including clinical autonomy, for clinicians.

Interviewing Rehab Companies: How to Find an Ethical Job

jobinterview
The most frequent questions I see on forums about finding a job or interviewing are:

  • What do you know about X company?
  • What is a good hourly rate for SLP in X location?
  • What kind of questions will they ask during an interview?

These are good questions, but, given the concerns many of us have about ethical practices in skilled nursing facilities, I believe we could focus on better questions. Why? Well let’s take a look at the common questions:

What do you know about X company?
In my experience talking to therapists about ethical dilemmas, I have not come across one company that is through and through unethical. There are some really great directors of rehab who will buffer corporate productivity pressures and advocate for clinical autonomy. They are dedicated to patient-centered care. Make sure you are able to interview the person that would be your immediate supervisor.

That being said, there are some companies that foster patient-centered care from the top. I am interviewing them and featuring them on my blog Gray Matter Therapy as I am connected with them. (If you have suggestions, contact me.)

What is a good hourly rate for SLPs in X location?
I believe SLPs provide an outstanding value to their rehab teams and should be compensated appropriately, but as an advocate for patient-centered care rather than profit-centered care I think about my wage in a different manner. In talking with therapists who work for ethical companies, I find we have something in common. We get paid a little less, but we never feel pressured to work off the clock and we are allotted time to complete important non-billable tasks.

Use ASHA’s salary data as a starting point, but consider the entire compensation and benefits package. I consider my quality of life and work-life balance to be a benefit. And I feel better about myself when I can focus my energy on patient care rather than number games.

What kind of questions will they ask during an interview?
This varies drastically. Most companies asked me logistical questions such as: When can you start? Can you work weekends if required? Can you be X% productive? I have been to a few interviews where I was asked how I would handle a particular client situation. I like those questions. It is evidence to me that my interviewer cares about the quality of the therapy patients receive, rather than just the quantity.

Turn the tables: You ask the questions
Take another look at the title of this post, “Interviewing Rehab Companies.” That’s not a typo. It’s not supposed to say “Interviewing With Rehab Companies” or “How to Answer Interview Questions Perfectly.” In my previous career, I interviewed job candidates. The candidates who brought thought-out questions (writing them down is OK) were my favorite. They did a little research beforehand and thought about what they could give to the team. They were thinking about continual growth. They made great employees.

Another reason to ask questions is to learn the answer to the question I get most often: “Is this an ethical company?” The only way to find out is to ask. Ask the interviewers questions, such as:

  • How would you handle a situation when a patient is on a particular “resource utilization group” (RUG) level; however, at the end of their assessment period they have a stomach bug and don’t want to participate in therapy?
  • How are discharge dates (from each discipline and the facility) determined?
  • Will you provide an example of how activities and restorative nursing coordinate with therapy in order to best serve patients?

Your interviewer might be a little surprised if you ask tough questions. Don’t worry about this. One of three things will happen:

  • It will be a good surprise. Your interviewer will see your concern, care and critical thinking and know you’ll be a good team member.
  • They won’t like it. You might be considered someone who questions authority. You won’t get hired. That’s OK. One of the big complaints I hear from therapists is the lack of clinical autonomy they have in jobs. You’ve just screened a potential employer and avoided that situation.
  • They won’t like it, but they are desperate to fill the position. They offer you the job. That’s OK. Now you get to practice saying “no.” If the job doesn’t meet your expectations, don’t take it.

By agreeing to work only in ethical workplaces, you are advancing the bottom-up approach to affecting change. Thank you, from all of us!

If you are looking more suggestions on finding an ethical job, read the “Interviewing Tips for Finding Ethical SNFs” post at Gray Matter Therapy.

Please join us at the ASHA Convention in November for the session, “Productivity Pressures in SNFs: Bottom Up and Top Down Advocacy.” Check the program planner for details.

 

Rachel Wynn, MS, CCC-SLP,  specializes in eldercare, and, as the owner of Gray Matter Therapy, provides education to therapists, healthcare professionals, and families regarding dementia and elder care. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 15 (Gerontology) and an advocate for ethical elder care and improving workplace environments, including clinical autonomy, for clinicians.

SLPs in the Home: What’s Pot Got to Do with It?

brownie

I never thought I’d be writing an article for ASHA about marijuana, but because I live in Colorado, I’ve got the latest news on weed to pass along to my fellow SLPs. In fact, if you were sitting here with me in the privacy of my own home (and you were over 21), we could chat about it while lawfully smoking a joint, munching on an edible cannabis-laced cookie, sucking on a marijuana lollipop or even, inhaling the vapors from an e-cigarette packed with marijuana oil. That’s just a sampling of the options we have to get high in the “mile high city.” Before you shout “I’m coming over!” I should probably disclose that I’m not a marijuana user, medical or recreational. If your next thought is “But I DON’T live in Colorado (or Washington) so this doesn’t apply to me – at least professionally” please read this entire article. Colorado law is considered a “springboard for other states” to legalize marijuana soon. Plus, illegal shipping to other states, often discovered during a routine traffic violation committed by the average Joe next door, has increased significantly. According to the El Paso Intelligence Center & National Seizure System, the mini-vans and SUVs bringing home “souvenirs” from Colorado aren’t just from the states bordering the Rocky Mountains. New York, Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin were some of the most popular destinations and consequently, you may experience some unexpected safety issues if you are providing home-based care for children and adults.

In an effort to educate therapists on the new laws and our responsibility to inform our families of issues that may arise with recreational marijuana use, Jane Woodard, the executive director of Colorado Drug Endangered Children, is traveling the state providing health care professionals the necessary information to keep ourselves and the families we serve safe. SLPs are required by law to report suspected conditions that would result in neglect/safety issues or abuse of children and adults. However, many of our families are simply not aware of the safety concerns and home based therapists are often the first resource for educating those families who choose to partake in using, growing or processing recreational marijuana.

Given the various populations that we serve, here is an overview of some of the safety issues:

Infants: As a pediatric feeding therapist, just one of the populations in my care are babies who require support for breast and bottle feeding. In this Colorado culture of embracing our new freedom, mothers are commenting to me without restraint that they’re using marijuana to combat nausea during pregnancy or enjoy “a little pot now and then” while breastfeeding.Studies indicate that by age four alarming changes occur in children that have had prenatal exposure. It’s noteworthy that the studies focused on a much lower amounts of delta-9-tetrhydrocannibinol (THC: the chemical that produces the psychoactive effect) than what is present in today’s super-charged marijuana products. The children demonstrated “increased behavioral problems and decreased performance on visual perceptual tasks, language comprehension, sustained attention and memory.” Marijuana use while breastfeeding is contraindicated because the THC is excreted into breast milk and stored in fat and is suspected to impact a baby’s motor development. There are no established “pump and dump” guidelines for THC and it stays in the bloodstream for much longer than other drugs. Consider the increased risks from both second-hand smoke and third-hand smoke or the “contamination that lingers” after smoking, including an increased risk for SIDS and more. For the home-based SLP, exposure to second and third-hand smoke or residue means that I will likely carry that aroma with me to the next home. I am responsible for the safety of all of the children I treat, and many are medically fragile and/or have sensory challenges and would be impacted by these odors. Today, I am faced with difficult conversations with parents that I never imagined I would have.

Children: In four short months, from January to April 2014, Colorado’s Poison Control Center has reported 11 children who ingested edibles, one as young as five months old. Over half of those children had to be hospitalized and two were admitted to the ICU. Consider that those are the reported cases – and what goes unreported is difficult to ascertain. While the law requires that the packaging cannot be designed to appeal to kids, current practices are questionable. Some argue that edibles are packaged too much like junk food, with boxes of “Pot-tarts” similar to the popular toaster pastry, bottles of fizzy “soda-pot” and candy bars with labels that rival Mars® and Hershey’s®.  In April 2014, Karma-Candy was the marijuana candy that a father in Denver consumed just before hallucinating and killing his wife, who was on the phone with 911 dispatchers at the time. She could be heard yelling to her kids to go downstairs as she desperately tried to get help for her family.

Packaging of certain products must also be in an opaque and re-sealable container, but that law only applies to the time of purchase. Plus, most edibles contain multiple servings and it’s not unusual for one cookie to serve six people. Even adults are mistakenly eating whole cookies and in April 2014, one visiting college student consequently jumped to his death from a hotel balcony after eating too much of an edible. A New York Times columnist visiting Colorado ate a whole candy bar labeled as 16 servings, and “laid in a hallucinatory state for 8 hours.” Home baked marijuana options are equally confusing. As a feeding therapist, I used to be comfortable offering foods to a child from a family’s pantry. But now, a tempting plate of brownies may be more than just a plate of brownies. By law, edibles, like any marijuana product (even plants), must be in an “enclosed, locked space.” However, it is not unusual for Colorado therapists to arrive for their home visit and find a bong, topical lotions or a half-eaten edible on the living room coffee table. Early intervention and home health care agencies are considering how to educate families on the first day of contact, during the intake process. Susan Elling, MA, CCC-SLP, who treats both children and adults in the home, notes that “It will be very important to have an open and honest conversation with a patient (and their family) regarding marijuana use as part of taking the medical history – just as we do for alcohol and smoking.”

Adults: Ms. Elling reported that “the population in need of homecare services may be more likely to use marijuana to control pain and nausea” because family members are more likely to suggest it and there will no longer be a need to obtain a medical marijuana card. Ms. Elling also notes that marijuana “affects sleep, balance, coordination, and cognition.  This may be amplifying the conditions a patient is already dealing with related to medical issues.  It can also significantly raise anxiety.  These are all factors that increase fall risk, confusion, lead to poor judgment, and can setback a patient’s recovery. It may be very difficult to determine what issues are related to the patient’s medical condition and which are related to the marijuana use.  Interventions, progress and prognosis may be affected.” Edibles in particular are a safety hazard for this population, because of the inability to self-regulate. There is no predicting how an edible will effect one person or another.

“It’s not your grandmother’s marijuana,” reported Dr. Richard Zane, who is the head of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado Hospital. Well-meaning family members, hoping to control their loved one’s discomfort, may not realize that the strength of today’s marijuana is significantly higher than the pot your cool grandma smoked in the 60’s. In fact, THC levels represent a 121% increase just from 1999 to 2010. Family members may not understand that the strength and effect of the drug varies from product to product. For example, compare two hits on today’s joint and an individual will ingest approximately five mg of the chemicals that produce the psychoactive and/or sedative effects compared to up to 100 mg in one packaged edible. Plus, even using the exact same method of ingestion does not guarantee the exact same dosage every time. Zane reported in this interview with Colorado Public Radio that the “drug isn’t always spread evenly through food or candy, so several people eating the same amounts can be ingesting different quantities of marijuana.”

The uncertainty of dosage and effects has Elling on guard: “I am concerned that the high potency, unpredictable effect, easy availability, and unclear dosage information of edibles may have serious consequences for homecare patients with already fragile health. It is also misleadingly considered quite “benign” and safe compared to alcohol consumption and smoking.  I feel the need to know the signs and symptoms of a marijuana overdose and know the contraindications with any other prescription or OTC drugs they may be taking and be able to educate my patients and their caregivers regarding this issue.”

Additional Safety Concerns: In the course of this short article, it’s impossible to cover all of the safety issues, including those related to growing and processing marijuana in the home. These concerns include electrical hazards from impromptu wiring (not to code); cultivation hazards such a mold and poor air quality for medically fragile patients;  increased carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide necessary for growing; chemical exposures and improper storage of pesticides and poisonous fertilizers; THC on household surfaces and airborne exposure; and exploding hash oil labs. From January to April 2014, hash oil explosions occurred on a weekly basis in Colorado, some triggered just by turning on a nearby light switch.

Consider Family Functioning: The impact on safety is the tip of the iceberg. Woodard explained that home health professionals must consider a parent’s behavior when using marijuana, the impact on a child’s behavior and family functioning overall. Difficult but often necessary questions to ask include: What steps have you taken to protect your children and family members? How do you store your marijuana and paraphernalia? What are you like when you use? Most importantly, she recommended asking yourself “Do I believe that the conditions in this home could reasonably result in harm” to anyone in this household? If so, educate the family and be mindful of mandatory reporting laws.

 

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

10 Trillion Microorganisms versus Your Toothbrush

dental

“The mouth is dirty,” Dr Kenneth Shay stated frankly; AND, it is “the biggest hole in your body!”

Warning: You may want to finish eating, brush your teeth, floss, use mouthwash, and then come back…

OR

If it is early morning, and you haven’t brushed your teeth yet: then scrape the gunk off your teeth with your fingernail. You may have found 10 billion microorganisms in that cubic millimeter.

There are 1 trillion to 10 trillion microorganisms in your mouth. Simply brushing your teeth can get rid of that nasty bacteria film in your mouth. It can also prevent “some of that schmutz” from getting into your lungs. If you are having trace aspiration (saliva, food, and/or liquids getting into your lungs), try to make what gets into your lungs less nasty. You can prevent pneumonia. Pneumonia due to poor oral care is a major avoidable infection, per Shay.

Ross & Crumpler (2006) noted that despite strong evidence in the literature on the role of brushing the teeth in preventing pneumonia, medical staff continue to view oral care as a comfort measure and only use foam swabs.

“Toothette sponges are wimpy,” stressed Shay. They don’t get the gunk (plaque) off the teeth. Plaque is sticky. If not removed, it hardens into tarter (also known as calculus). Then a visit to the dentist is needed to get it off (debridement).

Why is the mouth forgotten in healthcare? We help the dependent elder go to the bathroom many times a day. So why don’t we help brush his teeth?I’ve heard some nurses say they are squeamish about the mouth! It makes them gag! Well, we should be gagging over the costs of neglecting the mouth.

This simple prevention technique of brushing costs pennies a day against the cost of a pneumonia. Based on CDC numbers from 2011, there were 157,500 Hospital Acquired Pneumonia infections that year. CDC states the average extra cost of that hospital acquired infection is $22,875. This equals over 3 billion dollars!

Why are we not protecting this wide open gateway to the body? Imagine your gingival space between the tooth and gum as a huge parking lot. Germs love these 1-3 millimeter deep parking spaces. If germs park in the gingival space for more than 24 hours, they become calcified into plaques. Bacterial loves to stick to plaque. Only brushing removes it. No brushing leads to a build-up of plaque in the gingival space and inflammation (gingivitis).

It only takes 48 hours of hospitalization in a critically ill patient to change this bacteria from the usual gram-positive streptococci to gram-negative microorganisms (the nasty pathogenic bacteria that cause pneumonia).
Maybe we don’t brush our patients teeth because the gums bleed? Blood is okay, per Shay, even if you are on a blood thinner. Shay stated that bleeding is a sign that you need to brush more. It is due to the inflammation, and regular brushing will prevent bleeding. Shay warned that bleeding is only risky if the patient has a blood disorder or disease that causes excessive bleeding.

Most cases of gingivitis do not progress to the more serious periodontitis, but…Immune-compromising events can cause an autoimmune response that can lead to periodontitis, per Shay. Examples of immunocompromising events are not only hospitalization and critical illness; they could also be the following:

• life stressors
• flu
• depression, and
• pregnancy

Periodontitis is inflammation caused by bacteria that affects the attachment between the tooth and the bone. It is an irreversible destruction of the supporting tissues (i.e., the periodontal ligament to alveolar bone). Then bone-absorbing cells eat away at the bone. The bone will not be regenerated. Additionally, with the gums receding, “there is more surface area to collect gunk,” said Shay. The periodontal pocket that is formed creates a larger “parking garage” of 6-8 millimeters deep. Lots of gram-negative anaerobic bacteria can park there! Pathogenic microorganisms. “These are the same things that cause aspiration pneumonia,” stated Shay.

See the full blog post at www.swallowstudy.com.

Karen Sheffler, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1995 with her master’s degree. There, she was under the influence of the great mentors in the field of dysphagia like Dr. John (Jay) Rosenbek, Dr. JoAnne Robbins, and Dr. James L. Coyle. Once the “dysphagia bug” bit, she has never looked back. Karen has always enjoyed medical speech pathology, working in skilled nursing facilities and rehabilitation centers in the 1990s, and now in acute care in the Boston area for more than 14 years. She has trained graduate student clinicians during their acute care internships for more than 10 years. Special interests include neurological conditions, esophageal dysphagia, geriatrics, end-of-life considerations, and patient safety/risk management. She has lectured on various topics in dysphagia in the hospital setting, to dental students at the Tufts University Dental School, and on Lateral Medullary Syndrome at the 2011 ASHA convention. She is a member of the Dysphagia Research Society and the Special Interest Group 13: Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders. Karen obtained her BCS-S (Board Certified Specialist in Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders) in August of 2012. You can follow her blog, www.swallowstudy.com.

7 Clues in the Medical Record to Discover Dysphagia

7 clues

Medical speech pathology has its uncertainties.This may cause the speech-language pathologist to be very conservative, possibly over-treating or overcompensating, per James Coyle, PhD, CCC-SLP, BCS-S at his talk on April 11, 2014, at the ASHA Healthcare & Business Institute.

“When the cause of dysphagia is not obvious: Sorting through treasure and surprises in the medical record.”

Coyle advised clinicians to value the medical record just as much as our direct examination of the patient. The “medical record is a messy place,” per Coyle. It is our job to dig for clues to distinguish which came first: the illness or the dysphagia. Some conditions can mimic dysphagia-related aspiration pneumonia. Some community acquired infections can create weakness and delirium, which then cause an acute dysphagia.

Let’s start with a story: An active-independent elderly female develops a urinary tract infection (UTI). She feels sleepy and stops eating/drinking regularly. This worsens the UTI and causes dehydration. She gets to the hospital four days after the onset of symptoms. Dehydration causes electrolyte imbalances, leading to delirium. Delirium + infection = more lethargy and a global cognitive decline. Being out of her usual environment causes more confusion and agitation. Antipsychotic medications are used to control the acute agitation. The patient becomes septic, as the infectious process spreads. Her urosepsis spreads to a pneumonia. The SLP notes a high aspiration risk, as the patient looks severely impaired. Unfortunately, without a thorough medical record review, the patient is labeled with dysphagia-related aspiration pneumonia. She stays on thickened liquids and pureed foods until hospital discharge. Will the patient fall through the cracks and never eat regular food again? Will the “Big-A-word” (ASPIRATION) follow her the rest of her life? Or will an SLP re-evaluate her in two weeks and discover that her dysphagia has disappeared?

I have summarized Coyle’s talk into these seven clues (more details and references in my full post).

1)    Is it pneumonia?

  • New infiltrate on CXR. Dependent lobes? Not necessarily only the lower lobes if the patient is bedridden or aspirating while laying down on the couch.
  • Leukocytosis (WBC count of >11.5-12.0). Warning: immune-compromised patients cannot make white blood cells.
  • Fever (>38 Celsius for >24 hours)

 

2)    What type of pneumonia is it?

  • Ventilator Acquired Pneumonia (VAP): May be widespread infiltrates. Strong correlation with oral pathogens.
  • Dysphagia-Related Aspiration Pneumonia (DAP): A recurrent pneumonia may be one big infection from ongoing aspiration. Perform a swallow study to determine if dysphagia is present and why. This is so important. If we label them with DAP, that patient’s past medical history will forever say “Aspiration Pneumonia.” Then medical personnel may be overly conservative in the future.
  • Non-Dysphagia-Related Aspiration Pneumonia (NDAP) and/or Aspiration Pneumonitis: if no dysphagia present before infection, check history for chemical irritants, allergens, reflux, a vomiting event, or use of acid-suppression therapy (i.e., Proton-Pump Inhibitors).
  • Hospital Acquired Pneumonia (HAP) or Health Care Acquired Pneumonia (HCAP): pathogens from the institution getting into the lung. Aspiration?
  • Community Acquired Pneumonia (CAP): may be diffuse infiltrates and not in dependent lobes.

 

3)    What was the patient’s baseline? “You got to have dysphagia to have dysphagia,” joked Coyle. “But seriously,” he added, “I can’t underscore this enough.” Dysphagia-Related Aspiration Pneumonia (DAP) requires the finding of difficulty swallowing prior to getting sick. Be a detective.

 

4)    Is there a systemic spread of infection (e.g., septicemia or sepsis)?

  • Sources: The lung is not the sole source for the primary infection. Wound, oral cavity, urinary tract?
  • Problem: The patient may not develop sudden signs, but it can unfold rapidly. Coyle urged SLPs to be careful when predicting goals for the future, as “sick people look pretty darn sick.” Good communication is needed at discharge to ensure re-evaluations.
  • Ask the medical team questions: Is this a short-term reversible problem? Could this be an acute dysphagia due to the illness?

 

5)    Was there a surgical procedure that could have caused the dysphagia? For examples: cardiothoracic surgery, lung transplant, lung resection, esophagectomy, head/neck cancer resection. Coyle recommended Atkins, et al (2007). See references on my full post.

 

6)    Was there a medical procedure that could have caused the dysphagia or an aspiration? For examples: feeding tubes, prolonged intubation, traumatic intubation, peri-operative aspiration event, chemotherapy/radiation.

 

7)    Are there medications that could be causing the aspiration, dysphagia, or pneumonia?

  • Polypharmacy increases a patient’s pneumonia risk.
  • Coyle recommended reading Knol, et al (2008). This was a case controlled study of elderly patients with age-matched controls. Patients who received antipsychotics where 60% more likely to have pneumonia.
  • Read more possibilities on my full post.

 

Our answers to these questions have a great impact on all we do: from our initial examination and instrumental evaluations through our discharge plan and beyond. SLPs do not diagnose pneumonia, but our communication with the medical team is an extremely valuable contribution to their differential diagnosis.

 

Karen Sheffler, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1995 with her master’s degree. There, she was under the influence of the great mentors in the field of dysphagia like Dr. John (Jay) Rosenbek, Dr. JoAnne Robbins, and Dr. James L. Coyle. Once the “dysphagia bug” bit, she has never looked back. Karen has always enjoyed medical speech pathology, working in skilled nursing facilities and rehabilitation centers in the 1990s, and now in acute care in the Boston area for more than 14 years. She has trained graduate student clinicians during their acute care internships for more than 10 years. Special interests include neurological conditions, esophageal dysphagia, geriatrics, end-of-life considerations, and patient safety/risk management. She has lectured on various topics in dysphagia in the hospital setting, to dental students at the Tufts University Dental School, and on Lateral Medullary Syndrome at the 2011 ASHA convention. She is a member of the Dysphagia Research Society and the Special Interest Group 13: Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders. Karen obtained her BCS-S (Board Certified Specialist in Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders) in August of 2012. You can follow her blog, www.swallowstudy.com.

 

What SLPs Need to Know About the Medical Side of Pediatric Feeding

no food

Pediatric feeding problems come in all shapes and sizes. They tend to be complicated and often result from a combination of factors. This can make effective treatment challenging for the feeding therapist. A feeding problem is defined as “The failure to progress with feeding skills. Developmentally, a feeding problem exists when a child is ‘stuck’ in their feeding pattern and cannot progress.”

So where should the speech-language pathologist start? We should always begin by trying to figure out why the child is stuck and not progressing with eating and oral motor skills. Whether the child is dependent on tube feedings, not moving to textured foods, grazing on snack foods throughout the day, failing to thrive, pocketing foods, or spitting foods out, using medical management strategies can greatly improve a child’s success in feeding therapy.

A significant number of children with feeding difficulty also have a history of gastrointestinal problems such as gastroesophageal reflux, constipation, poor appetite, poor weight gain, and sometimes food intolerance. These issues can cause eating to be painful for the child which can lead to food refusal and avoidance and subsequent oral motor delay due to decreased practice eating the needed volumes for growth and poor acceptance of age appropriate foods. Research has shown the relationship between feeding difficulty and gastroesophageal reflux.

Most of the children we work with can’t tell us what is wrong. Their eating behavior tells us a lot about their digestive tract. These children often graze, volume limit, or avoid food because filling up their stomachs hurts. Some children complain that they have stomach pain while others vomit, spit up or cry with eating. We know that if these problems persist for any length of time, they become learned patterns of behavior.

Medical strategies that promote “gut” comfort and encourage appetite will help the child be receptive to eating and can improve response to feeding therapy. These strategies typically involve the following:

 

  • Addressing weight gain and growth as the priority of a feeding program.
  • Treating constipation and establishing a routine of daily soft stooling.
  • Treating gastroesophageal reflux and hypersensitivity in the GI tract.
  • Using hydrolyzed formulas that are easier to digest and promote gastric emptying and stooling.
  • Adjusting tube feeding rates and schedules to promote comfort.
  • Using appetite stimulants to boost hunger.

Some children’s feeding skills improve dramatically with medical management alone. Other children will need feeding therapy using techniques to improve acceptance of volume and variety of foods as well as oral motor therapy to progress to age appropriate oral motor patterns. No matter what type of feeding therapy approach you are using, the child will respond better if they feel better.

Many therapists have been taught to start with the mouth. That means addressing the oral motor hypersensitivity or oral motor delay first. Many clinicians feel that the doctor or medical specialists are addressing the reflux and constipation issues. However, it really is a team effort. Most physicians do not watch the child eat or see a child as often as we do as therapists. Therefore, it is important to work closely with the referring physicians to assist with proper diagnosis and treatment in order to assure the best outcomes for our patients.

Depending on the child, using medical management strategies can take multiple visits over time with the physician. If the child’s symptoms persist despite using medicines for reflux and constipation, a pediatrician may decide to refer the child to a gastroenterologist or feeding team for specialized care. A child also may undergo further testing to rule out medical diagnoses that can negatively effect eating such as anemia, food allergy, eosinophillic esophagitis, malrotation, and motility disorders.

The most important reason to recognize and treat the underlying medical issues of children with pediatric feeding problems is to help them progress. As SLPs, we need to recognize and identify GI issues prior to starting therapy so that we are not reinforcing pain or discomfort for the child. Our goals for most clients involve weight gain and growth, age appropriate oral motor patterns, and acceptance of a variety of foods from all food groups for healthy eating. These are attainable goals for many of our clients. Using medical strategies to help the child feel better will improve response to feeding therapy and eventually outcomes.

Krisi Brackett MS, CCC-SLP, is a feeding specialist with over 20 years of experience working with children with feeding difficulties. Krisi is co-director of the pediatric feeding team at the NC Children’s Hospital, UNC Hospitals, Chapel Hill, N.CFollow her at www.pediatricfeedingnews.com. The blog is dedicated to up to date pediatric feeding information. Krisi teaches a two-day workshop on using a medical/motor/behavior approach, is an adjunct instructor teaching a pediatric dysphagia seminar at UNC-Chapel Hill, and has co-authored a chapter in Pediatric Feeding Disorders: Evaluation and Treatment, Therapro, 2013.