Death by Choking or Dysphagia: A Review of Coronial Findings (Australia and Canada): A Picture of Preventable Death, Non-adherence to Written Recommendations, and Lack of Appropriate Supervision

J Law Med. 2022 Jun;29(2):400-405.


Choking and aspiration pneumonia are a leading cause of preventable death for people in residential care in Australia. In Victoria, in 2018-2019, 59% of deaths of persons in residential care that were referred to the coroner were from aspiration pneumonia. In 2016-2017, in New South Wales, the leading cause of death in people with disability living in residential care was pneumonitis caused by solids and fluids in the lungs. Such deaths are closely linked with swallowing problems (dysphagia) and people with cognitive impairments and multiple health issues, including mental health issues, are most at risk. This commentary focuses on coronial inquests where coroners' findings have identified dysphagia or aspiration pneumonia as a cause of death or a contributor to a person's death. It also includes a summary of the recommendations by coroners which highlight processes that should be implemented to improve the safety of people with dysphagia.

Keywords: Choking; aspiration pneumonia; disability; dysphagia; mealtime assistance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Airway Obstruction* / complications
  • Cause of Death
  • Deglutition Disorders* / etiology
  • Humans
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration* / complications
  • Victoria