Dysphagia in the elderly population: A Videofluoroscopic study

Sina Mehraban-Far, James Alrassi, Rushil Patel, Verdah Ahmad, Nicholas Browne, Wai Lam, Yujie Jiang, Nathaniel Barber, Melissa Mortensen
American Journal of Otolaryngology 2021 January 4, 42 (2): 102854

OBJECTIVE: To examine the impact of age and underlying comorbid conditions on swallowing in elderly patients with dysphagia.

METHODS: Charts of consecutive patients aged >64 studied by Videofluoroscopic swallowing study (VFSS) between 2010 and 2018 at our institution were reviewed (n = 731). Patients were categorized based on age into young old (aged 65-74), older old (aged 75-84) and oldest old (aged 85+). The underlying comorbidities and VFSS results were compared between different age groups.

RESULTS: Dysphagia was more likely to be caused by presbyphagia (p < 0.01) and dementia (p < 0.0001) in the oldest old, whereas, head and neck cancers (p < 0.0001) were more common in the young old cohort. In the absence of organic disease (e.g. cancer, stroke, dementia), aging was associated with prolonged oral transit time (OTT) (p < 0.05) and aspiration after swallow (p < 0.05). Compared to those with presbyphagia, patients with organic disease were more likely to have delayed pharyngeal swallow response (p < 0.05) and aspiration during swallow (p < 0.005).

CONCLUSION: There are significant differences in the etiology of dysphagia between different age cohorts amongst the dysphagic elderly population. In addition, organic diseases affect swallowing differently than does mere aging. The rate of prolonged OTT and post-swallow aspiration increase with aging in patients with presbyphagia, likely due to age-related sarcopenia of the swallowing muscles. Whereas, those with organic diseases have a higher rate of delayed pharyngeal swallow response and aspiration during swallow, likely due to sensorineural impairment. Thus, it is important to view the elderly as a heterogeneous group when evaluating patients with dysphagia.

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