The joy of eating...again

Mar. 07, 2018

London, ON  Breaking bread together with friends and family is one of life’s great joys. However, when the part of the brain that controls swallowing is injured, eating food or drinking liquids can become difficult. Those with this condition, known as dysphagia, must get their nourishment in other ways such as through a feeding tube.

Now, a new treatment tool being used at St. Joseph’s Health Care London (St. Joseph’s) is helping those with dysphagia learn to swallow again. The Abilex® Oral Motor Exerciser is a hand-held device that looks like a large spoon. It safely stimulates and exercises parts of the oral cavity to strengthen the lips, tongue, jaw and mouth and to maintain the flexibility and coordination of the tongue. The Abilex®  device was designed by Dr. Ruth Martin who is a professor at Western University’s School of Communication Sciences and Disorders and a scientist with Lawson Health Research Institute.

The inpatient Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program at St. Joseph’s Parkwood Institute was a test site for the Abilex® device, and is the first facility to integrate it into a rehabilitation program.“Sometimes, those with a brain injury may have a period of confusion known as post-traumatic amnesia. This means they may have difficulty forming memories, making it challenging for them to follow the swallowing exercises that help them learn to safely eat again,” explains Stephanie Muir-Derbyshire, a speech language pathologist (SLP) in the Acquired Brain Injury program.

For most of us, the swallowing process is automatic and has three phases: oral preparation – chewing food and mixing it with saliva to forum a bolus (a ball-like mixture of food and saliva); oral transit – tongue moving the bolus to the back of the mouth; and pharyngeal – physiological activities triggering the pharyngeal swallow.

Therapists have used the Abilex® device with many patients with tremendous success. Patients like Michele Fyfe. After having a serious heart attack and stroke last June, Michele’s brain was deprived of oxygen for a period of time, resulting in an anoxic brain injury. She was placed in an induced coma for three weeks to help her recover. While in the coma, Michele, 44, received nourishment through a feeding tube. Once the tube was removed, she had to learn to swallow again. “After therapist-guided exercises with the Abilex®, we were delighted when an assessment confirmed Michele could safely swallow again for the first time in five months,” says St. Joseph’s SLP Connie Ferri.  

Watch a video about the Abilex® device.

Stephanie Muir Derbyshire, Connie Ferri, and Michele Fyfe will be available for interviews on Thursday, March 8, at 11 am.


To arrange an interview, please contact:

Anne Kay, Communication and Public Affairs
St. Joseph’s Health Care London
Page: 519-649-9238        

About St. Joseph’s Health Care London

Renowned for compassionate care, St. Joseph’s Health Care London is a leading academic health care centre in Canada dedicated to helping people live to their fullest by minimizing the effects of injury, disease and disability through excellence in care, teaching and research. Through partnership with Lawson Health Research Institute and our collaborative engagement with other health care and academic partners, St. Joseph’s has become an international leader in the areas of: chronic disease management; medical imaging; specialized mental health care; rehabilitation and specialized geriatrics; and surgery. St. Joseph’s operates through a wide range of hospital, clinic and long-term and community based settings, including: St. Joseph’s Hospital; Parkwood Institute; Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care; and the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care. For more information, visit

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