Patient adherence to swallowing exercises in head and neck cancer

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Abstract

Purpose of review

A younger population and improved treatments for head and neck cancer (HNC) mean that more people are now living longer with the consequences of treatment, including long-term swallowing problems (dysphagia). Exercises aim to improve swallowing function, however highly variable adherence rates are currently reported, with no standard measure of adherence.

Recent findings

Measuring adherence to swallowing exercises depends on the definition of ‘adherence’, the tools used to measure adherence, and the acceptable threshold that is used to constitute adherence or nonadherence. Particular barriers to swallowing exercise adherence include the burden of treatment, the commitment required to undertake a home-based exercise programme and the difficulty in motivating patients to exercise before swallowing problems have become apparent. Findings from the wider literature on general exercise interventions highlight the importance of external and patient-related factors on adherence, including patient beliefs, social support, self-regulation and goal setting.

Summary

Key barriers and motivators to adherence are presented, which will have implications for the design of future swallowing exercise interventions. The relevance of behaviour change theory in facilitating adherence is highlighted, with ongoing studies used to exemplify how behaviour change components and analysis of patient beliefs can be incorporated into intervention development.

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