Objective: to assess the role of oropharyngeal dysphagia (OD) as a risk factor for malnutrition and/or lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI) in the independently-living population of 70 years and over.
Design: a population-based cohort study.
Subjects and setting: persons 70 years and over in the community (non-institutionalised) were randomly selected from primary care databases.
Measurements: the volume-viscosity swallow test (V-VST) was administered by trained physicians at baseline to identify subjects with clinical signs of OD and impaired safety or efficacy of swallow. At the one year follow-up visit, hand grip, functional capacity (Barthel score), nutritional status (mini nutritional assessment, MNA) and LRTI (clinical notes) were assessed.
Results: two hundred and fifty-four subjects were recruited (46.5% female; mean age, 78 years) and 90% of them (227) were re-evaluated one year later. Annual incidence of 'malnutrition or at risk of malnutrition' (MNA <23.5) was 18.6% in those with basal signs of OD and 12.3% in those without basal signs of OD (P = 0.296). However, prevalent cases of 'malnutrition or at risk of malnutrition' at follow up were associated with basal OD (OR = 2.72; P = 0.010), as well as with basal signs of impaired efficacy of swallow (OR = 2.73; P = 0.015). Otherwise, LRTI's annual incidence was higher in subjects with basal signs of impaired safety of swallow in comparison with subjects without such signs (40.0 versus 21.8%; P = 0.030; OR = 2.39).
Conclusions: OD is a risk factor for malnutrition and LRTI in independently living older subjects. These results suggest that older persons should be routinely screened and treated for OD to avoid nutritional and respiratory complications.