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How Aging Affects Our Swallowing Ability

Byline: Rebecca Leonard, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Otolaryngology, UC Davis

[Editors note: Click on the image below to view a 16 second video fluoroscopy clip of a swallow by a 20-something year old (on the left) versus a 70-something year old (on the right). Notice how smoothly liquids glide down the throat of the younger subject versus the effort and time required by the older subject to clear his throat. Comment — How nice it would be to be young again! Video provided courtesy of Rebecca Leonard.]

Swallowing difficulty (dysphagia) is a common consequence of many medical conditions, including stroke, chronic diseases that affect the nervous system and surgeries that affect the head and neck.  But swallowing difficulty can also be associated with aging.  In fact, it has been estimated that as many as 20% of individuals over the age of 50 years, and most individuals by the age of 80 years, experience some degree of swallowing difficulty. Individuals over the age of 65 years accounted for 12.9% of the U.S. population in 2009, and are expected to account for 19% of the population by 2030.  These large and growing numbers motivate us to understand all we can about how aging affects swallowing.  Hopefully, what we learn will help us treat, and possibly prevent, dysphagia in the elderly.

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Facing Fears and Finding Hope

My name is Fay and I am married to Gordon. I am 80 years old. Gordon is 88 and the patriarch of the Longstaff clan in Australia.

Until early in 2014, life for us had largely been a very comfortable existence, with a small, but close family, a few good friends, many friendly acquaintances, a few crafty hobbies, and basic good health. Gordon and I spent many years taking long caravan-based holidays around our vast island, and when finances permitted, a few overseas journeys, as well. We both took for granted our ability to plan the next adventure without ever anticipating a time when this would no longer be possible.

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Aging associated with development of dysphagia

Researchers at the University of Missouri established 15 metrics that could be compared to human swallowing function. These metrics include functions such as swallow rate and pharyngeal transit time. Using mouse models, researchers found that healthy aging mice develop symptoms of swallowing impairment that closely resemble the impairments seen in older adults: generally slowed swallowing function, impaired tongue function, larger size of the amount swallowed and an increase in the time it takes liquid to travel through the throat to the stomach.

Read Article: http://bit.ly/1CUPJbt

Also, click here for an NFOSD article on “How Aging Affects Our Swallowing Ability.”



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Dementia Detour with Dysphagia

Dementia imageByline: Laura Michael (Dysphagia Supplies Direct, LLC; www.dysphagiasupplies.com)

[Editors note: Laura is a regular contributor to the NFOSD website and e-newsletter, Small Bytes.  We wish to thank her for her support and dedication to making life a little easier to swallow. A longer bio is at the bottom of this article.]

Alzheimer’s and other dementias are often called “the Long Goodbye”. I would also describe the illness as a long journey.

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Swallowing and Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinsons disease (small)

Byline: Michelle Ciucci, PhD, CCC-SLP is an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Surgery-Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery, and the Neuroscience Training Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Michelle recently joined the NFOSD as a board member.

[Publisher note. Michelle Ciucci wrote this article for publication on the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research website. It was published on 11/5/2013 and can be viewed on their site by clicking here. The NFOSD is continually exploring ways in which we can work with other non-profit foundations where swallowing disorders present a significant risk to the members of their respective community’s.]

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