Impaired Swallowing in Hospitalized Patients: An Observational Study in a Community Hospital in Japan (2012–2014)

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Abstract

Background

Dysphagia is a serious health problem in aging populations. Older persons also experience high rates of chronic illness and hospitalization. Accurate identification of dysphagia at the time of hospital admission is important for providing supportive interventions for effective swallowing and preventing complications of dysphagia.

Objectives

This study aimed to estimate the prevalence of potential impairment of swallowing function, the association between self-reported and observed swallowing difficulty, and factors associated with swallowing impairment in hospitalized patients.

Methods

Data from 11,963 patients who were admitted to a community hospital from July 2012 to June 2014 were used. Patients responded to a brief self-administered questionnaire (BSAQ) about swallowing difficulties and performed a modified water swallow test (MWST) using a standardized protocol. Sensitivity and specificity of the BSAQ were evaluated against swallowing impairment based on the MWST. Logistic regression analysis was performed to evaluate associations between background characteristics and impaired swallowing as evaluated by the screening tests.

Results

Median age of patients was 73 years (interquartile range, 63–81 years), and 5,780 (48.3%) were women. On the BSAQ, a total of 3,026 patients reported severe symptoms in any of 15 dysphagia-related questions (253 per 1,000 patients). The MWST showed that 593 patients were unable to successfully swallow 3 ml of cold water without choking or experiencing wet hoarseness two times within 30 seconds (50 per 1,000 patients). Each item score and the total score of the BSAQ were significantly associated with impaired swallowing as evaluated by the MWST. The sensitivity and specificity of the BSAQ for impaired swallowing as evaluated by the MWST were 72% and 66%, respectively. The prevalence of impaired swallowing as evaluated by both tests increased with age—especially in patients of ages ≥80 years. Age, male gender, and underlying diseases, including neurological and respiratory diseases, were associated with swallowing dysfunction detected by the MWST.

Discussion

Impaired swallowing function may frequently be present in older hospitalized patients. The clinical significance of the validated screening tests in nursing practice should be further studied.

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