Delayed Tongue Movement May Be Linked to Swallowing Issues in Parkinson’s Patients, Study Suggests

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by Alice Melão |

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Slower tongue movement may contribute to the swallowing difficulties experienced by Parkinson’s disease patients, researchers report in a study.

Recognition of tongue movement patterns may help to detect and prevent swallowing problems, a condition known as dysphagia, earlier in this population.

The study, “Tongue Pressure Measurement and Videofluoroscopic Study of Swallowing in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease,” was recently published in the journal Dysphagia.

Parkinson’s disease progression is associated with the loss of movement control, including control over muscles in the face, mouth, and throat, leading to speech and swallowing difficulties. These can severely affect a patient’s ability to communicate as well as sustain healthy eating practices without needing additional support.

Japanese researchers evaluated the relationship between tongue pressure and dysphagia experienced by Parkinson’s patients.

A total of 24 patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s who were being followed at Hyogo College of Medicine Hospital and Hyogo College of Medicine Sasayama Medical Center in Japan were enrolled in the study.

A small T-shaped sensor, about as thick as a sheet of paper, was attached to the palate of each participant’s mouth to determine the pressure they were able to exert with their tongue. At the same time, researchers also evaluated how the patients’ mouth and esophagus — the muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach — responded as the participants swallowed or ingested food.

Out of all the participants, 15 were non-dysphagic, or did not have any issues with swallowing, while the remaining nine were dysphagic, already displaying some swallowing problems.

There were no significant differences in the patients’ ability to apply a certain amount of pressure with their tongue. However, the speed and time it took to exert that pressure during swallowing was slower and longer in dysphagic patients.

“A tongue pressure gradient, in which agility of the tongue movement decreased, was also identified in dysphagic Parkinson’s patients,” the researchers wrote.

In dysphagic patients, altered tongue movement was associated with taking a longer time to push food from the mouth into the esophagus. However, it was not correlated with the time it took for the food to move down through the esophagus.

“[In Parkinson’s patients] it may be possible to understand the degree to which dysphagia has progressed from changes in the oral phase… a delay in tongue movement during swallowing was related to tongue movement abnormalities [indicating] that measurements of tongue pressure during swallowing may be useful for the assessment and treatment of dysphagia in PD patients,” the researchers wrote.

Still, additional studies are warranted to further evaluate the particular patterns of tongue pressure and movement impairment among these patients.