The overall goal of this project is to contribute to the understanding of the age-related physiological and functional changes that occur across the eating process, leading to the design of more efficacious treatments for individuals with swallowing problems, particularly in the aging population. The combination of cognitive, physical, and sensory impairments commonly seen in many elderly individuals, especially in the presence of co-morbid neurologic impairment (e.g., dementia), often results in eating needs going unmet, leading to increased morbidity and premature mortality. The functional limitations of many of these individuals necessitate extensive or total assistance with consuming foods and liquids. However, despite the implication of increased safety associated with assisted feeding, the influence and potential increased risk of the elimination of cues resulting from this recommendation (e.g., proprioception from the hand/arm) on an already taxed system are unclear. Limited literature is available regarding the contribution of these pre-oral, or anticipatory, cues and stimuli to the process of "safe eating and swallowing". To address this clinically-relevant problem, this project seeks to: (1) identify the synergistic muscle patterns involving the hand/arm, lips, and jaw that are present during the pre-oral stage of deglutition in younger and older adults;and (2) to determine the influence of modifications in non-oropharyngeal sensory information and feedback on initiating and altering these oral motor patterns in younger and older adults. The experimental approach of this proposal capitalizes on the opportunity to utilize electromyography and optical motion detection techniques to examine the age-related changes in anticipatory responses and error correction patterns that occur during typical eating and swallowing. This work is significant as disruptions in the anticipatory stage of swallowing and pre-swallowing planning are common not only in the subpopulation of individuals requiring feeding assistance, but are additionally prominent in individuals with numerous neurological diseases, including dementia, right hemisphere disorder, stroke, and traumatic brain injury. The knowledge gained in this study will help disassociate the effects of normal aging from those due to these diseases, important in the design of appropriate assessment and intervention techniques. Determining whether or not disruptions in sensory feedback during the anticipatory stage of swallowing affect the pattern and timing of later swallowing may then lead to the development of new approaches to effective feeding practices and swallowing strategies aimed at preventing dysphagia and upper airway compromise in the elderly and across clinical populations.
Swallowing problems contribute to the high financial, physical, and psychosocial costs associated with disease, particularly in the elderly. Despite the implication of increased safety associated with feeding assistance for these individuals, the influence and potential risks of absent pre-oral sensory cues on an already taxed system are unclear. By examining the relationship between these pre-oral cues and anticipatory oral posturing during eating and swallowing in healthy elderly individuals, this research is positioned to address the potential for increased risk these recommendations may elicit, enhancing swallowing-related practices and interventions.