Definition, prevalence and burden of oropharyngeal dysphagia: a serious problem among older adults worldwide and the impact on prognosis and hospital resources

Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2012:72:1-11. doi: 10.1159/000339974. Epub 2012 Sep 24.


Oropharyngeal dysphagia describes difficulty with eating and drinking. This benign statement does not reflect the personal, social, and economic costs of the condition. Dysphagia has an insidious nature in that it cannot be 'seen' like a hemiplegia or a broken limb. It is often a comorbid condition, most notably of stroke, and many other neurodegenerative disorders. Conservative estimates of annual hospital costs associated with dysphagia run to USD 547 million. Length of stay rises by 1.64 days. The true prevalence of dysphagia is difficult to determine as it has been reported as a function of care setting, disease state and country of investigation. However, extrapolating from the literature, prevalence rises with admission to hospital and affects 55% of those in aged care settings. Consequences of dysphagia include malnutrition, dehydration, aspiration pneumonia and potentially death. The mean cost for an aspiration pneumonia episode of care is USD 17,000, rising with the number of comorbid conditions. Whilst financial costs can be objectively counted, the despair, depression, and social isolation are more difficult to quantify. Both sufferers and their families bear the social and psychological burden of dysphagia. There may be a cost-effective role for screening and early identification of dysphagia, particularly in high-risk populations.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Deglutition Disorders* / complications
  • Deglutition Disorders* / economics
  • Deglutition Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Deglutition*
  • Health Care Costs*
  • Health Resources
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / complications
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / economics
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / etiology
  • Prevalence
  • Prognosis
  • Stroke / complications