Neurophysiology of swallowing: effects of age and bolus type

Humbert IA, Fitzgerald ME, McLaren DG, Johnson S, Porcaro E, Kosmatka K, Hind J, Robbins J

Neuroimage. 2009 Feb 1;44(3):982-91. Epub 2008 Oct 28.


This study examined age-related changes in swallowing from an integrated biomechanical and functional imaging perspective in order to more comprehensively characterize changes in swallowing associated with age. We examined swallowing-related fMRI brain activity and videoflouroscopic biomechanics of three bolus types (saliva, water and barium) in 12 young and 11 older adults. We found that age-related neurophysiological changes in swallowing are evident. The group of older adults recruited more cortical regions than young adults, including the pericentral gyri and inferior frontal gyrus pars opercularis and pars triangularis (primarily right-sided). Saliva swallows elicited significantly higher BOLD responses in regions important for swallowing compared to water and barium. In separate videofluoroscopy sessions, we obtained durational measures of supine swallowing. The older cohort had significantly longer delays before the onset of the pharyngeal swallow response and increased residue of ingested material in the pharynx. These findings suggest that older adults without neurological insult elicit more cortical involvement to complete the same swallowing tasks as younger adults.

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