Throwback (2019): Video-animation helps patients with head and neck cancer better understand their swallow prognosis

After hearing the words, “You have head and neck cancer,” it is not hard to believe that patients do not immediately think of the implications that treatment will likely have on their swallowing. SLPs serve an important role in pretreatment counseling to prepare these patients for the potential development of dysphagia during and post-treatment. Indeed, patients are often dealing with exhaustion, pain, poor appetite, financial stress, and the overwhelmingness of their diagnosis Govender et al. conducted a qualitative study to see if video-animation as an education tool (compared to a written handout or pamphlet) would be useful & acceptable for patients to understand swallowing and dysphagia.

Patients were first shown a still image for anatomical orientation. They were then shown a “normal swallow” animation and then a “disordered” swallow animation representative of post-radiation (one with pharyngeal residue, effortful swallowing, and multiple swallowing attempts). During the first video, a clinician explained the normal swallow events. Then, the participant was asked to narrate what they saw during the second video, using what researchers refer to as a “think aloud” method. 

Researchers utilized the following strategies:

  • Paused video as needed

  • Allowed opportunity to replay the video

  • Slowed down the speed of the video

  • Provided simple cueing like, “Tell me what you’re thinking,” to encourage participation

Participants indicated that the animations were useful, interesting, and relevant. Several participants reported that if they had viewed the animations with explanation earlier, they would have been more likely to complete prophylactic swallowing exercises. The researchers propose that using video-animation as a visual support seemed to make the typically “unconscious” swallowing process more “concrete” than traditional diagrams or handouts. 


One limitation to this study is that participants were not newly diagnosed. All had some experience with swallowing treatment and the rehabilitation process. However, these preliminary results suggest that newly diagnosed patients may also benefit from education with video animations.


Govender, R., Taylor, S.A., Smith, C.H., & Gardner, B. (2019).  Helping Patients With Head and Neck Cancer Understand Dysphagia:  Exploring the Use of Video-Animation.  American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.  doi:10.1044/2018_AJSLP-18-0184.