Advanced Machine Learning Tools to Monitor Biomarkers of Dysphagia: A Wearable Sensor Proof-of-Concept Study

Megan Kathleen O'Brien, Olivia K. Botonis, Elissa Larkin, Julia Carpenter, Bonnie Martin-Harris, Rachel Maronati, Kunhyuck Lee, Leora R. Cherney, Brianna Hutchison, Shuai Xu, John A Rogers, Arun Jayaraman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) occurs frequently in patients with neurological disorders and can lead to aspiration, choking, and malnutrition. Dysphagia is typically diagnosed using costly, invasive imaging procedures or subjective, qualitative bedside examinations. Wearable sensors are a promising alternative to noninvasively and objectively measure physiological signals relevant to swallowing. An ongoing challenge with this approach is consolidating these complex signals into sensitive, clinically meaningful metrics of swallowing performance. To address this gap, we propose 2 novel, digital monitoring tools to evaluate swallows using wearable sensor data and machine learning. Methods: Biometric swallowing and respiration signals from wearable, mechano-acoustic sensors were compared between patients with poststroke dysphagia and nondysphagic controls while swallowing foods and liquids of different consistencies, in accordance with the Mann Assessment of Swallowing Ability (MASA). Two machine learning approaches were developed to (1) classify the severity of impairment for each swallow, with model confidence ratings for transparent clinical decision support, and (2) compute a similarity measure of each swallow to nondysphagic performance. Task-specific models were trained using swallow kinematics and respiratory features from 505 swallows (321 from patients and 184 from controls). Results: These models provide sensitive metrics to gauge impairment on a per-swallow basis. Both approaches demonstrate intrasubject swallow variability and patient-specific changes which were not captured by the MASA alone. Sensor measures encoding respiratory-swallow coordination were important features relating to dysphagia presence and severity. Puree swallows exhibited greater differences from controls than saliva swallows or liquid sips (p < 0.037). Discussion: Developing interpretable tools is critical to optimize the clinical utility of novel, sensor-based measurement techniques. The proof-of-concept models proposed here provide concrete, communicable evidence to track dysphagia recovery over time. With refined training schemes and real-world validation, these tools can be deployed to automatically measure and monitor swallowing in the clinic and community for patients across the impairment spectrum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-175
Number of pages9
JournalDigital Biomarkers
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 27 2021


  • Clinical decision support
  • Machine learning
  • Monitoring
  • Precision medicine
  • Wearable sensors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Informatics


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