Deglutition disorders in the elderly. Epidemiological aspects


THE PREVALENCE: The exact prevalence of deglutition disorders in the elderly is not known. It appears frequent in very old patients and in those suffering from polypathological symptoms, affecting 50% of the populations in long-term care units. THE EFFECTS OF AGING: Physiological aging alters various parameters of swallowing, however it seems that these modifications related to age have little effect on healthy subjects. However, they may increase vulnerability in those presenting with intercurrent pathologies. CONCOMITANT DISORDERS: Other than the decrease in efficient mastication and the existence of xerostomia, frequently observed contributing factors, many diseases may be responsible for dysphagia in theelderly. Neurological disorders, particularly cerebral vascular diseases, central nervous system degenerative disorders and neuro-motor diseases predominate. In the aging, muscular disorders and after effects of various diseases can set-in. Modifications in oropharyngeal anatomy generally results from cancerous lesions of the aero-digestive junction, but also, occasionally from extrinsic compression that does not necessarily reflect a neoplastic etiology. Zenker’s diverticulitis represents a cause of dysphagia specific to the elderly. Problems in swallowing of iatrogenic origin are also frequent, following cervical radiotherapy or after oropharyngeal surgery, during tracheal intubation or when using feeding tubes and also during various medical treatments. UNDERRATED CONSEQUENCES: Dysphagia leads to multiple morbid after effects, primarily alteration in quality of life, dehydration, undernutrition, asphyxia and congestion and recurrent infections of the respiratory tract. The responsibility of deglutition disorders in the occurrence of these complications is difficult to assess in weak elderly subjects because of the frequent concomitance with multiple deficiencies and incapacities.

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