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Many parents know that taking capsules or pills can be a real nightmare for some children. Even many adults have trouble swallowing medication. Difficulty in swallowing capsules or tablets can have huge implications for a child's health and for a family stress level, especially in families already challenged by life-threatening illnesses. The added problem of getting life-saving treatment for their child represents an enormous emotional burden.
Over the last five years Dr. Bonnie Kaplan and her students have developed and tested a new method for teaching pill swallowing.
The new method involves learning to swallow with one's head in different positions which makes it easier for medication to go down. It's surprising to people to swallow with their head in any position other than center, so it takes practice. The technique typically requires only 30 minutes to learn followed by two weeks of that daily practice, usually just five minutes a night, using candy.
The approach has been completely successful in the group of children willing and physically able to try it. Some children are too ill to follow the practice. We think children could also learn from watching this video, rather than having to be trained by health care staff individually.
This is all you need to get started: A glass of water and some candies. Make sure the candies are heavier hard candies. Not the gummy ones or very light ones that are used in cake decorating. We often use miniature m&ms or tic tacs. Let's begin with some information.
All you need to know is the following: The tube that goes from your mouth to your stomach is called the esophagus and it is much wider than any pill you would ever have to swallow. Let's compare one of the candies to the esophagus. The esophagus is also very flexible soft tissue.
Stick your tongue in your cheek. Now remove it. See how easily the cheek flexes and then bounces back? So does your esophagus. That's why you are able to swallow bites of food that are much much wider than the size of the esophagus that I've shown you. Now there's one other bit of information before we begin some swallowing. Everyone eats and swallows with their head center forward, but it turns out that when we swallow with our head turned to the side, there is a little spasm in the esophagus and it opens wider.
For that reason we find that lots of people prefer swallowing pills with their head turned to the side. The esophagus opens up wider and the pill goes down more easily. But some people like to swallow with their head up. They say it is easier for the pill to slide down their throat, as if their tongue is a ski jump and it is a straight shot then down the hill and through the esophagus. And even other people like to swallow with their chin down because they say it is more relaxing in the neck. So the bottom line is we need to find the most comfortable position for you and that will take two weeks of homework.
Want to know what the homework is? It's swallowing candy.
We'd like to thank everyone who has been involved in this project for the last five years that includes the students who did part of the work as there are thesis topics and research topics, the clinic staff who helped us find volunteers, the three or four hundred people in the city who did volunteer for our various studies, and of course the Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation who assisted us with funding.
It helps kids who can't swallow pills or capsules and I think it helps really good. I think it's a really beneficial worthwhile experience.
Watch the video above for step-by-step instructions in this method from Dr. Bonnie Kaplan herself.