Dysphagia in Older Adults

Shanojan Thiyagalingam, Anne E Kulinski, Bjorg Thorsteinsdottir, Katrina L Shindelar, Paul Y Takahashi
Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2021, 96 (2): 488-497
Dysphagia, which is a geriatric syndrome affecting 10% to 33% of older adults, is commonly seen in older adults who have experienced a stroke or neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer or Parkinson disease. Patients diagnosed as having dysphagia can experience malnutrition, pneumonia, and dehydration. Patients can also experience increased rates of mortality and long-term care admission. Providers can identify the specific type of dysphagia for treatment in approximately 80% of patients by asking 5 questions in the patient's history: What happens when you try to swallow? Do you have trouble chewing? Do you have difficulty swallowing solids, liquids, or both? Describe the symptom onset, duration, and frequency? What are the associated symptoms? Providers can then request a videofluoroscopic swallow study or a fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing for further evaluation of oropharyngeal dysphagia. If providers are diagnosing esophageal dysphagia, barium esophagraphy or esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) can be used as part of the assessment. Patients can be treated for oropharyngeal dysphagia by using compensatory interventions, including behavioral changes, oral care, dietary modification, or rehabilitative interventions such as exercises and therapeutic oral trials. Providers often address treatment of esophageal dysphagia by managing the underlying etiology, which could include removal of caustic medications or using EGD as a therapeutic modality for esophageal rings. High-quality, large research studies are necessary to further manage the diagnosis and appropriate treatment of this growing geriatric syndrome.

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