March 17, 2014 5:54 pm
Updated: March 18, 2014 4:39 pm

App for cancer patients puts rehabilitation at their fingertips


EDMONTON – A new app will make therapy more accessible for survivors of head and neck cancers.

Developed at the Misericordia hospital and the University of Alberta, the portable swallowing therapy unit will help patients with swallowing impairments complete their rehab in the comfort of their own home.

The technology will help patients understand what their muscles are doing while they swallow.

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The app will take two years to develop and test, and the Alberta Cancer Foundation has agreed to fund it – $1.9 million over the next five years.

Dr. Jana Rieger, the lead researcher on the project, said it will give patients more independence in their rehabilitation, in contrast to traditional therapy.

Traditional swallowing therapy requires patients come to the hospital three to four times a week to use the large rehabilitation equipment.

“What ends up happening is probably only about 10 per cent of patients who could benefit from this type of therapy actually come in and get it,” said Rieger.

“There’s lots of people out there living with swallowing disorders that we aren’t getting to as clinicians.”

The app is combined with an adhesive sensor under the jaw and a pendant that rests on the patient’s chest. The pendant speaks wirelessly to the app and it can send the patient’s data to health-care professionals anywhere in the province.

The technology has a few settings that the patient can set to motivate them to complete the therapy.

“Things like progress bars, goal-setting, how many times a day you’ve practiced, how many swallows you’ve done, were your swallows today as good as the ones you did yesterday,” Reiger said

“The progress bar might tell them that you’re only at about 55 per cent so you need to try a little harder. Or maybe you need to hold the swallow for a little longer.”

Linda Neill, a mouth cancer survivor, thinks the app has a lot of potential.

“I think it would be super beneficial,” she said, highlighting the privacy provided by using the app.

The app is being funded through the Alberta Cancer Foundation.

© 2014 Shaw Media

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