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Health Care Staff Need to Screen their Patients with Dementia for Dysphagia

Dementia imposes various hazards that increase a patient’s vulnerability and risk of mortality. Patients with advanced dementia often experience difficulties in swallowing, known as dysphagia. Oropharyngeal dysphagia is the most common cause of aspiration, and pneumonia, presumably caused by aspiration, is the most common cause of death in people with dementia. An estimated 13% to 57% of patients with dementia experience dysphagia. Due to an almost tenfold risk of aspiration pneumonia in patients with dysphagia, aspiration pneumonia is the primary cause of death in people with dementia.

A recent study analyzed the prevalence and two clinical symptoms of dysphagia in various types of dementia and disease stages. The results showed that, compared with control participants, patients with dementia more commonly showed signs of aspiration. Among patients with dementia, water aspiration (35.6%) occurred more often than aspiration while eating a slice of an apple (15.1%) or apple puree (6.3%).

Identifying dysphagia in patients with dementia is crucial to initiate appropriate care. Long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities need to effectively screen their patients for these kinds of dangers.