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Dysphagia in Alzheimer’s disease: a systematic review

A disfagia na Doença de Alzheimer: uma revisão sistemática

ABSTRACT

Dysphagia is described as a highly relevant comorbidity of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, there is a scarcity of studies aiming at the characteristics and progression of dysphagia. Objective: The objective of this study was to identify the specific characteristics, progression, and prevalence of dysphagia in AD. Methods: Publications were searched in the PubMed (MEDLINE), EBSCO, ScienceDirect, and BASE databases. Critical appraisal and evidence-level analysis were conducted using the Joanna Briggs Institute and Effective Public Health Practice Project’s (EPHPP) tools. Results: A total of 26 studies were reviewed. Symptoms begin in the early stage of AD, as oral phase impairments, and progress to pharyngeal symptoms and swallowing apraxia in the later stages of AD. Dysphagia progresses, as AD, along a continuum, with severity depending on individual variability. There were no studies found on prevalence. Conclusions: Dysphagia is a complex and important comorbidity in AD that impacts the quality of life. No recent publications on prevalence may imply that is not being coded as a potential cause for pneumonia deaths in AD.

Keywords:
Deglutition Disorders; Alzheimer Disease; Disease Progression; Prevalence

RESUMO

A disfagia é uma comorbidade relevante da doença de Alzheimer (DA). No entanto, existem poucos estudos sobre as suas características e progressão. Objetivo: Identificar as características específicas, a progressão e a prevalência da disfagia na DA. Métodos: Pesquisa conduzida nas bases PubMed (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online — MEDLINE), EBSCO, ScienceDirect e BASE. Avaliação crítica e análise do nível de evidência foram conduzidas usando as ferramentas do Joanna Briggs Institute e do Effective Public Health Practice Project (EPHPP). Resultados: Incluíram-se 26 estudos. Os sintomas iniciam-se no estádio inicial da DA, como alterações de fase oral, progredindo para alterações faríngeas e apraxia de deglutição no estádio grave. A disfagia progride, como a DA, num continuum, com a gravidade dependendo da variabilidade individual. Não foram encontrados estudos de prevalência. Conclusões: A disfagia é uma comorbidade complexa e importante que tem impacto na qualidade de vida. A escassez de publicações atuais de prevalência pode indicar que não é considerada como potencial causa de morte por pneumonia na DA.

Palavras-chave:
Transtornos de Deglutição; Doença de Alzheimer; Progressão da Doença; Prevalência

INTRODUCTION

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was first described by Alois Alzheimer in 1907, which is a neurodegenerative disease11 Wilson RS, Segawa E, Boyle PA, Anagnos SE, Hizel LP, Bennett DA. The natural history of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease. Psychol Aging. 2012;27(4):1008-17. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029857
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that accounts for 60–70% of all cases of dementia22 Reitz C, Brayne C, Mayeux R. Epidemiology of Alzheimer disease. Nat Rev Neurol. 2011;7(3):137-52. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrneurol.2011.2
https://doi.org/10.1038/nrneurol.2011.2...
. Clinically, AD is characterized by behavioral and cognitive decline11 Wilson RS, Segawa E, Boyle PA, Anagnos SE, Hizel LP, Bennett DA. The natural history of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease. Psychol Aging. 2012;27(4):1008-17. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029857
https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029857...
,33 Dubois B, Feldman HH, Jacova C, Cummings JL, DeKosky ST, Barberger-Gateau P, et al. Revising the definition of Alzheimer’s disease: a new lexicon. Lancet Neurol. 2010;9(11):1118-27. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1474-4422(10)70223-4
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that typically results in symptoms originating from hippocampal and bilateral parietal-temporal dysfunction22 Reitz C, Brayne C, Mayeux R. Epidemiology of Alzheimer disease. Nat Rev Neurol. 2011;7(3):137-52. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrneurol.2011.2
https://doi.org/10.1038/nrneurol.2011.2...
. The progressive cognitive, behavioral, and neuropsychiatric symptoms have significant impacts on the affected individual’s autonomy33 Dubois B, Feldman HH, Jacova C, Cummings JL, DeKosky ST, Barberger-Gateau P, et al. Revising the definition of Alzheimer’s disease: a new lexicon. Lancet Neurol. 2010;9(11):1118-27. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1474-4422(10)70223-4
https://doi.org/10.1016/S1474-4422(10)70...
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Prevalence of dysphagia

The high prevalence of dysphagia among individuals with dementia is the result of age-related changes to sensory and motor functions, in addition to those produced by neuropathology44 Kyle G. Managing dysphagia in older people with dementia. Br J Community Nurs. 2011;16(1):6-10. https://doi.org/10.12968/bjcn.2011.16.1.6
https://doi.org/10.12968/bjcn.2011.16.1....
. The prevalence of dysphagia in moderate to severe AD is from 84 to 93%55 Priefer BA, Robbins JA. Eating changes in mild-stage Alzheimer’s disease: a pilot study. Dysphagia. 1997;12(4):212-21. https://doi.org/10.1007/PL00009539
https://doi.org/10.1007/PL00009539...
77 Sura L, Madhavan A, Carnaby G, Crary MA. Dysphagia in the elderly: management and nutritional considerations. Clin Interv Aging. 2012;7:287-98. https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S23404
https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S23404...
. Ironically, dysphagia remains an overlooked symptom, even when its complications can lead to longer hospitalizations and increased health care costs88 Paranji S, Paranji N, Wright S, Chandra S. A nationwide study of the impact of dysphagia on hospital outcomes among patients with dementia. Am J Alzheimers Dis Other Demen. 2017;32(1):5-11. https://doi.org/10.1177/1533317516673464.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1533317516673464...
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In AD, swallowing impairments are the leading cause for a progressive reduction in solid and liquid food intake66 Easterling CS, Robbins E. Dementia and dysphagia. Geriatr Nurs. 2008;29(4):275-85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gerinurse.2007.10.015
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gerinurse.2007...
. Given that swallowing impairments directly affect food consumption, dysphagia may lead to weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration99 Correia SM, Morillo LS, Jacob Filho W, Mansur LL. Swallowing in moderate and severe phases of Alzheimer’s disease. Arq Neuro-Psiquiatr. 2010;68(6):855-61. https://doi.org/10.1590/s0004-282x2010000600005
https://doi.org/10.1590/s0004-282x201000...
1111 Affoo RH, Foley N, Rosenbek J, Shoemaker JK, Martin RE. Swallowing dysfunction and autonomic nervous system dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease: a scoping review of the evidence. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2013;61(12):2203-13. https://doi.org/10.1111/jgs.12553
https://doi.org/10.1111/jgs.12553...
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Cortical deficits regarding dysphagia in Alzheimer’s disease

Cortical regions involved in normal swallowing are affected by AD, including the insula/inferior frontal gyrus, pars opercularis, anterior cingulate cortex, and anterior medial temporal lobe1212 Humbert IA, McLaren DG, Kosmatka K, Fitzgerald M, Johnson S, Porcaro E, et al. Early deficits in cortical control of swallowing in Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;19(4):1185-97. https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-2010-1316
https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-2010-1316...
. As AD progresses, individuals experience a significant deterioration in the swallowing mechanism66 Easterling CS, Robbins E. Dementia and dysphagia. Geriatr Nurs. 2008;29(4):275-85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gerinurse.2007.10.015
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gerinurse.2007...
; although some studies report swallowing impairments in the early stages of AD, it is more pronounced in the later stages99 Correia SM, Morillo LS, Jacob Filho W, Mansur LL. Swallowing in moderate and severe phases of Alzheimer’s disease. Arq Neuro-Psiquiatr. 2010;68(6):855-61. https://doi.org/10.1590/s0004-282x2010000600005
https://doi.org/10.1590/s0004-282x201000...
.

Dysfunctions in cortical regions that control swallowing render the act of eating and drinking extremely effortful and may have devastating implications, such as increased risk for tracheal penetration and aspiration of foods, liquids, or even saliva, which can lead to aspiration pneumonia or death1010 Kalia M. Dysphagia and aspiration pneumonia in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Metabolism. 2003;52(10 Suppl 2):36-8. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0026-0495(03)00300-7
https://doi.org/10.1016/s0026-0495(03)00...
,1212 Humbert IA, McLaren DG, Kosmatka K, Fitzgerald M, Johnson S, Porcaro E, et al. Early deficits in cortical control of swallowing in Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;19(4):1185-97. https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-2010-1316
https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-2010-1316...
,1313 Alzheimer’s Association. 2018 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures. Alzheimer’s Dement. 2018;14(3):367-429. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2018.02.001
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2018.02.0...
. In AD, 70% of all deaths are related to pneumonia1414 Sato E, Hirano H, Watanabe Y, Edahiro A, Sato K, Yamane G, et al. Detecting signs of dysphagia in patients with Alzheimer’s disease with oral feeding in daily life. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2014;14(3):549-55. https://doi.org/10.1111/ggi.12131
https://doi.org/10.1111/ggi.12131...
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Dysphagia progression

In the early stages of AD, dysphagia undergoes a prolonged oral stage characterized by reduced lingual movement and delayed swallowing reflex1414 Sato E, Hirano H, Watanabe Y, Edahiro A, Sato K, Yamane G, et al. Detecting signs of dysphagia in patients with Alzheimer’s disease with oral feeding in daily life. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2014;14(3):549-55. https://doi.org/10.1111/ggi.12131
https://doi.org/10.1111/ggi.12131...
,1515 Chouinard J, Lavigne E, Villeneuve C. Weight loss, dysphagia, and outcome in advanced dementia. Dysphagia. 1998;13(3):151-5. https://doi.org/10.1007/PL00009565
https://doi.org/10.1007/PL00009565...
. This extended oral stage has been correlated with a longer duration for meal completion and, consequently, a risk of malnutrition1616 Suto T, Meguro K, Nakatsuka M, Kato Y, Tezuka K, Yamaguchi S, et al. Disorders of “taste cognition” are associated with insular involvement in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia: “memory of food is impaired in dementia and responsible for poor diet”. Int Psychogeriatr. 2014;26(7):1127-38. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1041610214000532.
https://doi.org/10.1017/S104161021400053...
. The most frequent symptoms are oral residue after swallowing, mastication inefficacy, coughing or choking when consuming solid and/or liquid foods, and the need for verbal cues to initiate the swallowing reflex1717 Suh MK, Kim H, Na DL. Dysphagia in patients with dementia: Alzheimer versus vascular. Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2009;23(2):178-84. https://doi.org/10.1097/WAD.0b013e318192a539
https://doi.org/10.1097/WAD.0b013e318192...
. Some neurocognitive factors are associated with greater swallowing impairments, such as the inability to visually recognize foods, tactile and oral agnosia, and swallowing apraxia1818 Alagiakrishnan K, Bhanji RA, Kurian M. Evaluation and management of oropharyngeal dysphagia in different types of dementia: a systematic review. Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2013;56(1):1-9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.archger.2012.04.011
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.archger.2012.0...
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Moderate AD stages are characterized by difficulties in bolus preparation, airway clearance, upper esophageal sphincter opening, and visible aspiration when conducting Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES)1919 Rösler A, Pfeil S, Lessmann H, Höder J, Befahr A, von Renteln-Kruse W. Dysphagia in dementia: influence of dementia severity and food texture on the prevalence of aspiration and latency to swallow in hospitalized geriatric patients. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2015;16(8):697-701. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jamda.2015.03.020
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jamda.2015.03....
, where pharyngeal impairments can lead to aspiration before, during, or after swallowing1818 Alagiakrishnan K, Bhanji RA, Kurian M. Evaluation and management of oropharyngeal dysphagia in different types of dementia: a systematic review. Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2013;56(1):1-9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.archger.2012.04.011
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.archger.2012.0...
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In the severe stage, swallowing difficulties are severe and significantly impinge on the individual’s quality of life66 Easterling CS, Robbins E. Dementia and dysphagia. Geriatr Nurs. 2008;29(4):275-85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gerinurse.2007.10.015
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gerinurse.2007...
,99 Correia SM, Morillo LS, Jacob Filho W, Mansur LL. Swallowing in moderate and severe phases of Alzheimer’s disease. Arq Neuro-Psiquiatr. 2010;68(6):855-61. https://doi.org/10.1590/s0004-282x2010000600005
https://doi.org/10.1590/s0004-282x201000...
. At this stage, individuals with AD may experience swallowing apraxia2020 Seçil Y, Arıcı S˛, Incesu TK, Gürgör N, Beckmann Y, Ertekin C. Dysphagia in Alzheimer’s disease. Neurophysiol Clin Neurophysiol. Neurophysiol Clin. 2016;46(3):171-8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neucli.2015.12.007
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neucli.2015.12...
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Speech and Language Therapists’ role

Speech and language therapists (SLTs) have a fundamental role in the assessment and intervention of dysphagia, collaborating with diverse medical and nursing specialties in a variety of contexts2121 Furkim A, Silva R. Programas de reabilitação em disfagia orofaríngea neurogênica. São Paulo: Frôntis; 1999.,2222 Boccardi V, Ruggiero C, Patriti A, Marano L. Diagnostic assessment and management of dysphagia in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2016;50(4):947-55. https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-150931
https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-150931...
. Interventions by SLTs should be evidence-based and tailored to a unique set of difficulties of the person with dysphagia2323 Clark S, Ebersole B. Understanding the role of speech language pathologists in managing dysphagia. Nursing. 2018;48(12):42-46. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.NURSE.0000547723.69610.20
https://doi.org/10.1097/01.NURSE.0000547...
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The notable association between swallowing pattern, nutritional status, and general health status highlights the need for the specialized skills of SLTs in the effective management of dysphagia. Successful interventions help increase solid and liquid food intake, maintain nutritional status, and prevent morbidities such as pneumonia1010 Kalia M. Dysphagia and aspiration pneumonia in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Metabolism. 2003;52(10 Suppl 2):36-8. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0026-0495(03)00300-7
https://doi.org/10.1016/s0026-0495(03)00...
.

The most frequent interventions used by SLTs are compensatory interventions (e.g., modification of diet consistency and/or postures), although their effects on the prevention of aspiration are variable2424 Logemann JA. Treatment of oral and pharyngeal dysphagia. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2008;19(4):803-16, ix. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmr.2008.06.003
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmr.2008.06.00...
. The implementation of compensatory interventions is somehow related to the safety of oral food consumption, and their failure supports the use of acute alternative sources of nutrition77 Sura L, Madhavan A, Carnaby G, Crary MA. Dysphagia in the elderly: management and nutritional considerations. Clin Interv Aging. 2012;7:287-98. https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S23404
https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S23404...
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Enteric nutrition

Enteric nutrition (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy [PEG] or nasogastric tube) in patients with AD or other dementias should only be administered in acute situations (e.g., cases of aspiration pneumonia or severe dysphagia). Generally, artificial nutrition yields no benefit on survival rates or decreasing the risk of aspiration in patients in the most advanced stages of dementia1818 Alagiakrishnan K, Bhanji RA, Kurian M. Evaluation and management of oropharyngeal dysphagia in different types of dementia: a systematic review. Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2013;56(1):1-9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.archger.2012.04.011
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.archger.2012.0...
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Aim

The primary aim of this review was to identify and describe the specific characteristics and symptom progression of dysphagia in AD in recent literature. The secondary aim was to investigate the available evidence on the prevalence of dysphagia in AD patients.

METHODS

Search strategy and selection criteria

In March 2020, two researchers independently conducted a search of publications between 2010 and 2020 by following a predefined protocol. This literature search was conducted on the PubMed, EBSCO, Science Direct, and BASE databases to identify studies on the characteristics of dysphagia in AD and its progression and prevalence. Reference lists of relevant articles were also reviewed. To ensure a thorough search, a protocol based on the PRISMA statement was designed, and combinations of search terms were determined (e.g., dysphagia, swallowing disorders, deglutition disorders, AD, prevalence, evolution, and progression). The inclusion criteria comprised peer-reviewed primary studies written in English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese published between 2010 and 2020.

Critical appraisal and level of evidence

A critical appraisal and an evidence-level analysis were performed with the Joanna Briggs Institute Critical Appraisal Tools and the Effective Public Health Practice Project’s (EPHPP) “Quality Assessment Tool for Quantitative Studies.”

The Joanna Briggs Institute Critical Appraisal Tools2525 Aromataris E, Fernandez R, Godfrey CM, Holly C, Khalil H, Tungpunkom P. Summarizing systematic reviews: methodological development, conduct and reporting of an Umbrella review approach. Int J Evid Based Healthc. 2015;13(3):132-40. https://doi.org/10.1097/XEB.0000000000000055
https://doi.org/10.1097/XEB.000000000000...
were applied to each study according to its design and methodology. These tools allowed us to determine construct and internal validity, the sample establishment criteria, the risk of bias (in studies and by researchers), and the validity of the statistical tools chosen. Therefore, each critical appraisal tool allowed researchers to analyze the included studies independently. A consensus of critical appraisal was compiled in a table according to the study design. Of note, no study was excluded from the sample following the critical assessment.

Later, the process of assessing the level of evidence within the studies was conducted. To this end, the “Quality Assessment Tool for Quantitative Studies” tool, from the EPHPP, was used2626 Evans N, Lasen M, Tsey K. A systematic review of rural development research: characteristics, design quality and engagement with sustainability. London: Springer; 2015 [cited on May 01, 2020]. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/978-3-319-17284-2
http://link.springer.com/10.1007/978-3-3...
. This tool analyzes the bias in the selection of the sample, study design, confounding variables, the knowledge of individuals regarding the objectives and/or procedures, methods of data collection, exclusions and/or withdrawals, integrity of the intervention, and analysis of the results; as a result, studies are assigned as possessing a strong, moderate, or weak level of evidence. The levels of evidence are attributed based on the application of the criteria listed in the tool’s appendix. The level assigned to each domain being studied is then reflected in the overall assessment of a given study. Three levels can be assigned: level 1 is “strong,” level 2 is “moderate,” and level 3 is “weak.” As no significant discrepancies were found in the application of the tool and in the levels of evidence established, a consensus on the level of evidence was reached.

Data extraction and reporting

The data collected from the sample studies were organized into a table, which included author(s), publication year, study design, sample, objectives, data collection instruments, most pertinent results, and broader implications.

For the qualitative processing and synthesis of the studies, we used WebQDA software that identifies itself as a qualitative data analysis software.

RESULTS

The initial search yielded 505 results from candidate studies that were screened by title and abstract. The screening process excluded 468 studies that failed to meet the inclusion criteria (e.g., heterogeneous sample, secondary or unrelated studies, studies in non-specified languages). After screening, both researchers proofread the remaining 37 studies and found that 11 of them were duplicated. Ultimately, 26 studies were included, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1
PRISMA flow diagram of the sampling process.

The level of evidence, which was determined by the EPHPP – Quality Assessment Tool for Quantitative Studies2626 Evans N, Lasen M, Tsey K. A systematic review of rural development research: characteristics, design quality and engagement with sustainability. London: Springer; 2015 [cited on May 01, 2020]. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/978-3-319-17284-2
http://link.springer.com/10.1007/978-3-3...
, stated that the majority of the studies (69%) included had a moderate level of evidence.

With respect to study design, the final sample included 6 experimental studies and 20 observational studies, more specifically, non-randomized clinical trials (n=6), a case–control study (n=1), cohort studies (n=9), a case study (n=1), and longitudinal studies (n=9). The greatest limitations were found to be the study design, sample characteristics (e.g., number of participants, selection criteria, nonspecific dementia samples), and nonuniversal nomenclature used to describe the swallowing disorders.

Later, results were analyzed and synthesized, allowing to outline broad patterns and general characteristics. The scope of the studies is outlined in Figure 2.

Figure 2
Scope of the sample studies.

There were no epidemiological studies on prevalence published in the past 10 years, and the results presented a broad variety of topics and nomenclature regarding dysphagia in AD. Studies were found on the evolution of dysphagia, the correlation between nutritional status and dysphagia, intervention methodologies, health care-associated costs, comparison of dysphagia symptoms and progression between dementias, and dysphagia as a comorbidity of AD. The lack of consensus in nomenclature and criteria used for incidence and description of symptoms is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3
Nomenclature regarding dysphagia.

Regarding dysphagia symptoms and their progression, stratification in stages was most commonly found according to the clinical dementia rating (CDR). A compilation of the most frequent symptoms is shown in Table 1.

Table 1
Dysphagia symptoms and progression according to clinical dementia rating.

In the sample studies, the incidence of dysphagia varied from 2.4 to 100% (Table 2). The values shown were assessed by different methods and correspond to the AD population with different symptoms of dysphagia present in the samples of the studies included.

Table 2
Incidence of dysphagia in sample studies.

Therefore, the sample studies were analyzed and synthesized according to their relevance in dysphagia understanding and management in the clinical setting. Relevant topics that were shown in recent literature were added to the study, analyzed, and described.

DISCUSSION

The initial proposal for this study was to identify the specific characteristics of dysphagia in the different stages of AD. This was a goal rather challenging due to the design of the studies in recent literature. Designing and executing an experimental study in a target population with great individual variability as AD (clinical, neuropsychological, and cognitive-behavioral) may affect the quality and accuracy of study results. This may explain the abundance of studies in the literature with non-specified samples (i.e., dementia without any other specification), which were excluded from this study. The sample used in our own systematic review, which used observational (n=20) and experimental (n=6) studies, is not exempt from these challenges.

Dysphagia characteristics and symptom progression

Dysphagia symptoms in early AD are centered around a longer oral phase with reduced lingual movement and delayed swallowing reflex. Understanding whether there would be functional changes in the cerebral cortex responsible for swallowing in the early stages of the disease prior to the onset of symptoms of oropharyngeal dysphagia was found in a study by Humbert and colleagues1212 Humbert IA, McLaren DG, Kosmatka K, Fitzgerald M, Johnson S, Porcaro E, et al. Early deficits in cortical control of swallowing in Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;19(4):1185-97. https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-2010-1316
https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-2010-1316...
. This study focused on the assessment of deficits in cortical control of swallowing in the early stages of AD and may have important clinical implications for educating patients with AD and their caregivers, early assessment, diagnosis, and intervention to minimize risks, future complications, and health care costs1212 Humbert IA, McLaren DG, Kosmatka K, Fitzgerald M, Johnson S, Porcaro E, et al. Early deficits in cortical control of swallowing in Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;19(4):1185-97. https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-2010-1316
https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-2010-1316...
.

The early-stage dysphagia symptoms have been correlated with a longer duration for meal completion and, consequently, a higher risk of malnutrition. The oral residue after swallowing, mastication inefficacy, coughing or choking when consuming solid and/or liquid foods, and the need for verbal cues to initiate the swallowing reflex are described in recent literature.

Dysphagia symptoms in moderate AD stages progress toward the pharyngeal phase where impairments can lead to aspiration before, during, or after swallowing. Difficulties in bolus preparation, airway clearance, upper esophageal sphincter opening, and visible aspiration when conducting FEES are the most common symptoms. Some neurocognitive factors are associated with greater swallowing impairments, such as the inability to visually recognize foods, tactile and oral agnosia, and swallowing apraxia.

The cortical deficits in the later stages of AD, oral, and pharyngeal phase difficulties were associated with difficulties in meal initiation, passivity, low attentional capacity, and refusal to eat. The decrease in speed and volume of intake relates to sensory-motor issues associated with cognitive changes resulting from AD99 Correia SM, Morillo LS, Jacob Filho W, Mansur LL. Swallowing in moderate and severe phases of Alzheimer’s disease. Arq Neuro-Psiquiatr. 2010;68(6):855-61. https://doi.org/10.1590/s0004-282x2010000600005
https://doi.org/10.1590/s0004-282x201000...
. In 2018, a study2727 Dias MC, Vicente LC, Friche AA, Ribeiro EG, Motta AR. Tempo de trânsito oral na demência de Alzheimer. Audiol Commun Res. 2018;23:e1900-e1900. https://doi.org/10.1590/2317-6431-2017-1900
https://doi.org/10.1590/2317-6431-2017-1...
corroborated these results, focusing on the importance of manipulating the consistency of the foods offered to minimize the risk of aspiration and malnutrition2727 Dias MC, Vicente LC, Friche AA, Ribeiro EG, Motta AR. Tempo de trânsito oral na demência de Alzheimer. Audiol Commun Res. 2018;23:e1900-e1900. https://doi.org/10.1590/2317-6431-2017-1900
https://doi.org/10.1590/2317-6431-2017-1...
.

Swallowing difficulties in the later stage of AD are severe and greatly impair the quality of life. Also, patients with AD may experience swallowing apraxia at this stage.

A study by Seçil and colleagues in 20162020 Seçil Y, Arıcı S˛, Incesu TK, Gürgör N, Beckmann Y, Ertekin C. Dysphagia in Alzheimer’s disease. Neurophysiol Clin Neurophysiol. Neurophysiol Clin. 2016;46(3):171-8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neucli.2015.12.007
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neucli.2015.12...
found the changes in the electrophysiological parameters of swallowing in 75% of their sample, although no symptoms were shown. The authors also observed the following changes in swallowing as the disease progresses: subclinical dysphagia (early stage), dysphagia (moderate stage), and apraxia of swallowing (severe stage). The concept of progressive deterioration of the swallowing reflex appears in all studies.

Some studies have correlated dysphagia to the individual’s general nutritional status. For instance, studies2828 Chen LL, Li H, Lin R, Zheng JH, Wei YP, Li J, et al. Effects of a feeding intervention in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dysphagia. J Clin Nurs. 2016;25(5-6):699-707. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocn.13013
https://doi.org/10.1111/jocn.13013...
3434 Yildiz D, Büyükkoyuncu Pekel N, Kiliç AK, Tolgay EN, Tufan F. Malnutrition is associated with dementia severity and geriatricsyndromes in patients with Alzheimer disease. Turk J Med Sci. 2015;45(5):1078-81. https://doi.org/10.3906/sag-1406-76
https://doi.org/10.3906/sag-1406-76...
found the correlations between nutritional aspects and dysphagia. Ultimately, the studies converge on the following results: the more severe the dysphagia, the worse the individual’s nutritional condition.

The evidence states unequivocally that AD comorbidities are interrelated3535 Heun R, Schoepf D, Potluri R, Natalwala A. Alzheimer’s disease and co-morbidity: increased prevalence and possible risk factors of excess mortality in a naturalistic 7-year follow-up. Eur Psychiatry. 2013;28(1):40-8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eurpsy.2011.06.001
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eurpsy.2011.06...
. The severity of dysphagia in the studies we sampled seems to directly influence nutrition, hydration, the presence of pressure ulcers, the presence and severity of respiratory infections, the severity of cognitive-behavioral changes, and the general health status of individuals with AD3434 Yildiz D, Büyükkoyuncu Pekel N, Kiliç AK, Tolgay EN, Tufan F. Malnutrition is associated with dementia severity and geriatricsyndromes in patients with Alzheimer disease. Turk J Med Sci. 2015;45(5):1078-81. https://doi.org/10.3906/sag-1406-76
https://doi.org/10.3906/sag-1406-76...
,3535 Heun R, Schoepf D, Potluri R, Natalwala A. Alzheimer’s disease and co-morbidity: increased prevalence and possible risk factors of excess mortality in a naturalistic 7-year follow-up. Eur Psychiatry. 2013;28(1):40-8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eurpsy.2011.06.001
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eurpsy.2011.06...
.

Prevalence and incidence of dysphagia in Alzheimer’s disease

The studies in this review allowed only to partially answer the research question. There were no studies found in the past 10 years regarding the prevalence of dysphagia in AD and the lack of consensus in nomenclature, and criteria used for incidence and description of symptoms were considerable limitations. Incidence data were classified and stratified according to CDR, others to the degree of severity of dysphagia, risk of dysphagia, or even risk of malnutrition. The authors used terms such as “malnutrition,” “low, moderate, high risk of dysphagia,” “eating disorders,” or “eating difficulties” that appear to indicate the incidence of swallowing disorders. Such nonspecific nomenclature is often used to describe issues associated with dysphagia, which has two potential explanations. First, clinicians are unable to determine where the physiological phenomenon of dysphagia begins, and the cognitive-behavioral phenomena associated with dementia end. The potential explanations provided suggest the presence of a vicious clinical circuit; the presence of AD disturbed intake, and the metabolic consequences worsening AD. Preclinical detection would be a valuable clinical goal that could influence early intervention, potentially slow down progression, and decrease health care cost. Second, the professional background of the researchers affects the nomenclature employed to describe the physiological phenomenon under study. The use of nonspecific nomenclature referring to swallowing disorders renders any generalizations dubious in validity. In addition, the frequency of a feature’s references does not necessarily represent the real prevalence of that feeding characteristic. This is due not only to the level of evidence of the studies and their methodological limitations, but also to the studies’ aims and to the instruments used to measure swallowing difficulties.

Regarding incidence, data were collected, analyzed, and summarized according to CDR. Incidence of dysphagia in the sample studies showed a major variation that ranged from 2.4 to 100%. The discrepancy of values could be explained by the differences in aim, samples, and assessment methods, and correspond to the AD population with different symptoms in the samples of the studies included. Researchers should aim for a consensual nomenclature (that does not depend on the researcher’s professional background) as well as homogeneous samples in their studies. Therefore, a qualitative analysis of the most relevant topics in recent literature should be conducted with clinical implications in managing dysphagia in AD.

Further discussion

A study by Tian and colleagues3636 Tian H, Abouzaid S, Sabbagh MN, Chen W, Gabriel S, Kahler KH, et al. Health care utilization and costs among patients with AD with and without dysphagia. Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2013;27(2):138-44. https://doi.org/10.1097/WAD.0b013e318258cd7d
https://doi.org/10.1097/WAD.0b013e318258...
proved to be unique in the literature; they retrospectively studied two databases of North America’s health care subsystems within a 4-year period and found that patients with AD and dysphagia use health services significantly more and at higher costs. This corroborates the idea that early intervention in dysphagia in AD may help to lower health care-related expenditures. Further research in this area could spur political and clinical decision-makers to fund early intervention.

Limitations

The main proposal of this study was to present a global and largely inclusive perspective on swallowing disorders in AD patients.

An effort was made to systematize the information into main categories; however, it might not have involved a consensual approach.

Several limitations should be borne in mind when interpreting our results. Selection bias may be present. To increase data collection, the identification of grey (unpublished) literature could offer new insights, although it is also a controversial procedure due to its unconventional format and a lack of a peer-reviewed process.

Another important source of bias in results comparison is the variety of the studies included. For example, there were a limited number of experimental studies and a significant number of observational studies, variation of protocols and outcome measures, and no assessment of the risk of bias. Furthermore, studies evaluating interventions and management were unable to blind direct care providers due to the nature of the intervention. The diversity of terms regarding dysphagia with a lack of consensus between authors was also a serious limitation to the data analysis, increasing the risk of bias.

Future directions

Although there is evidence in the literature that dysphagia is an important symptom in AD, no studies in the past decade were found on its prevalence or variations in prevalence as a function of disease progression. Future research is encouraged to focus on prevalence so that clinicians, politicians, and the public at large can be better informed about dysphagia, and better diagnostic tools can be developed.

Only a handful of studies showed that changes in the cortical swallowing network occur early in AD and may be correlated with early functional changes in swallowing; however, the neuropathophysiology of dysphagia in AD remains unclear. Therefore, future studies should focus on the neuropathophysiology of swallowing impairments in AD so that the association with functional changes and symptoms is brought to light.

Dysphagia presents itself as one of the most impactful comorbidities of AD, yet its supporting evidence is scarce. Although the literature indicates that dysphagia affects both the oral and pharyngeal stages of swallowing in AD, no studies were found on the esophageal stage of swallowing. Future research on the specific symptoms of each stage of swallowing in AD would improve assessment and intervention, as well as the quality of life.

The research team also found that most studies differ in their nomenclature on dysphagia, a problem that urgently needs a solution.

In addition, different methodologies were used to examine dysphagia in AD, with no specific and individualized swallowing assessment being consistently used. Also, few studies examined specific interventions for dysphagia in individuals with AD. Postural adjustments, food consistency modifications, electric or sensory stimulation, and motor training as intervention have been thoroughly studied in several neurodegenerative diseases, and future research should aim for the same standard to be applied in dysphagia interventions in AD.

In conclusion, dysphagia in AD is described in the literature as an important comorbidity due to its impact on the quality of life of individuals. It has a complex, multifaceted, and variable clinical presentation. Dysphagia, such as AD, progresses along a continuum of symptoms that decrease the individual’s quality of life and increase the health care costs.

Long before symptoms appear, there are cortical changes in the neural networks responsible for swallowing. Dysphagia is linked to other comorbidities of AD unequivocally: more severe dysphagia leads to severe malnutrition and dehydration, severe respiratory infections, falls, pressure ulcers, cognitive-behavioral decline, and even the individual’s death. This systematic review aims to impact clinicians in the assessment and diagnosis of dysphagia in AD and in the design of a specific and individualized therapeutic program that aims to prevent future clinical complications or even death.

Regarding the prevalence of dysphagia in AD, there are no epidemiological studies on the prevalence of this comorbidity in the literature in the past 10 years but only estimated data (with wide prevalence windows) from international health associations that (specifically) study the pathology and the comorbidities associated with it. It is considered imperative to understand the real prevalence of dysphagia in AD so that policymakers and clinicians can converge toward early intervention and reducing the burden on health systems. No up-to-date study on the prevalence of dysphagia in AD could also mean that this comorbidity could be underdiagnosed and not noted as a leading cause of death from pneumonia in patients with AD.

As a partial answer to the research question, it is concluded that dysphagia is undeniably presented as an important, impactful, continuous disorder, often associated with the progression of AD. It evolves, like the disease, in a degenerative sense and contributes to the progressive decrease in the individual’s quality of life and to the increase in access and associated costs in health (medication, hospitalization, among others).

The lack of a clear nomenclature, incidence data, and recent prevalence studies contributes to lessen the quality of dysphagia understanding and management in AD.

This review contributes to a global view of the phenomenon of dysphagia in AD and serves as a basis for future research.

  • This study was conducted by the authors as the first author Master of Science Degree Thesis, Alcoitão School of Health Sciences, Lisbon, Portugal
  • Funding: none.

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Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    23 May 2022
  • Date of issue
    jul-sep 2022

History

  • Received
    16 July 2021
  • Reviewed
    03 Nov 2021
  • Accepted
    12 Nov 2021
Academia Brasileira de Neurologia, Departamento de Neurologia Cognitiva e Envelhecimento R. Vergueiro, 1353 sl.1404 - Ed. Top Towers Offices, Torre Norte, São Paulo, SP, Brazil, CEP 04101-000, Tel.: +55 11 5084-9463 | +55 11 5083-3876 - São Paulo - SP - Brazil
E-mail: revistadementia@abneuro.org.br | demneuropsy@uol.com.br