Background: Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by a high prevalence of dysphagia, cough dysfunction, and resultant aspiration pneumonia. Sensorimotor cough function is important for airway clearance in people with dysphagia. Upregulation of cough has been demonstrated in healthy adults and Parkinson’s disease; however, the feasibility of cough rehabilitation in PSP is unknown. We sought to assess feasibility by examining the immediate effects of a novel sensorimotor training in airway protection (smTAP) on upregulation of cough function in PSP.
Methods: Fifteen individuals with PSP enrolled in this study. Baseline voluntary and reflex cough testing were completed. During smTAP, participants were presented with subthreshold capsaicin and instructed to cough with sufficient intensity to hit a target line (set 25% above baseline reflex peak cough flow) via cough airflow visual biofeedback. Twenty-five repetitions were targeted within a single session. Wilcoxon signed-rank tests compared cough airflow measures between baseline voluntary cough testing, the initial five trials of smTAP, and final five trials.
Results: Mean peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) significantly increased from initial to final smTAP trials (p < .001). Fourteen participants increased PEFR, with gains of more than 10% in 11 participants. Variability of PEFR (p = .01) and cough expired volume (p = .01) significantly decreased across smTAP trials.
Conclusions: This study is the first to demonstrate the ability of people with PSP to immediately upregulate cough function, providing preliminary support for the feasibility of cough rehabilitation in this population with this novel treatment approach. Future research examining the effects of multiple sessions of smTAP on cough outcomes is warranted.