Despite important advancements in medical and surgical cancer treatments that prolong survival, veterans with oropharyngeal head and neck cancer (OP HNC) are faced with chronic, intractable dysphagia resulting in persistent drastic alterations in diet, the need for feeding tubes, and increased risk for aspiration pneumonia ? a life threatening infection. We must devote research and clinical efforts to mitigate these devastating impairments because currently our rehabilitative intervention options are severely limited. As such, and in keeping with the VHA?s Blueprint for Excellence Transformative Actions, the need for the development of effective swallowing interventions that show potential for rapid translation to clinical practice is imperative. Respiratory-swallow coordination is an essential element of airway protection during swallowing and facilitates many key aspects of swallowing physiology. This key coordinative event is significantly disrupted in patients who are dysphagic following medical and surgical treatments for OP HNC. [Our preliminary trial tested an innovative swallowing treatment approach developed in our clinical laboratory, respiratory-swallow training (RST), that targets respiratory-swallow coordination directly and resulted in compelling improvements in physiologic swallowing outcomes in veterans suffering from dysphagia that persisted long after traditional behavioral swallowing intervention(s). The goal of this proposed trial is to extend our preliminary study using a rigorous, randomized cross over design and determine the impact and durability of RST on clinical outcomes essential for eating, drinking, health, and quality-of-life in veterans with OP HNC. As such, positive results from the proposed trial have high significance and clinical relevance for veterans? health and well-being.] A total of 88 subjects will be recruited and randomly assigned 1:1 to either RST (intervention arm) or no active treatment (control arm), which is considered standard of care in this patient population. Data obtained will be used to evaluate clinical efficacy and durability. Data obtained from [an additional 11] subjects randomized to RST + home practice (HP) will be used to assess the feasibility of adjuvant HP program and to obtain preliminary data on its added impact on efficacy and response durability. The primary efficacy endpoint is Functional Oral Intake Scale level, and the secondary endpoint will be respiratory-swallow phase patterning. We will also elaborate on the impact of RST by detailing the physiological, airway protective, and morphometric changes that occur. We will use reproducible, reliable, and validated metrics that include the Modified Barium Swallow Impairment Profile, Penetration-Aspiration Scale, and Computational Analysis of Swallowing Mechanics to distinguish the mechanistic effects of RST. Further, adherence to a novel HP component using self-guided practice will be introduced and tested for feasibility and contribution to the degree and durability of the RST intervention effect. Our overarching goal is to provide two parallel tracks of knowledge generation: 1) provide immediate clinical translation of experimental findings to improve the lives of veterans, and 2) drive model generation on fundamental mechanisms of motor coordination. Basic knowledge will drive clinical application and vice-a- versa. As such, this is an ideal experimental and clinical context that will fuel knowledge generation in this highly significant area of science and clinical practice.
Despite important advancements in medical and surgical treatments that prolong survival, veterans with oropharyngeal head and neck cancer (OP HNC) are faced with chronic, intractable dysphagia resulting in persistent drastic alterations in diet, the need for feeding tubes, and increased risk for aspiration pneumonia ? a life threatening infection. The goal of this current project represents a natural progression of a positive preliminary trial that showed compelling physiologic improvements in swallowing using a new cross-system rehabilitation intervention, respiratory-swallow training (RST). The current project is designed to study the impact of RST, including the feasibility for adding a new home practice component, on the degree and durability of clinical outcomes essential for eating, drinking, health, and quality-of-life in veterans with OP HNC.