Immediate effects of transcutaneous electrical stimulation on physiological swallowing effort in older versus young adults

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This study compared the immediate impact of different transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TES) amplitudes on physiological swallowing effort in healthy older adults versus young adults.


Swallowing physiology changes with age. Reduced physiological swallowing effort in older adults including lower lingua-palatal and pharyngeal pressures may increase risk for swallowing dysfunction (i.e. dysphagia). Transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TES) has been advocated as an adjunctive modality to enhance outcomes in exercise-based therapy for individuals with dysphagia. However, significant variation in how TES is applied during therapy remains and the physiological swallowing response to TES is poorly studied, especially in older adults.

Materials and methods:

Physiological change in swallowing associated with no stimulation, sensory stimulation and motor stimulation was compared in 20 young adults versus 14 older adults. Lingua-palatal and pharyngeal manometric pressures assessed physiological swallowing effort.


Multivariate analyses identified interactions between age and stimulation amplitude on lingual and pharyngeal functions. Motor stimulation reduced anterior tongue pressure in both age groups but selectively reduced posterior lingua-palatal pressures in young adults only. Sensory stimulation increased base of tongue (BOT) pressures in older adults but decreased BOT pressures in young adults. Motor stimulation increased hypopharyngeal pressures in both groups.


Age and TES level interact in determining immediate physiological responses on swallow performance. A one-size-fit-all approach to TES in dysphagia rehabilitation may be misdirected.

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