Dr. Nicole Rogus-Pulia offers guidance on dysphagia for people with dementia and their caregivers

elderly woman at dinner table eating with others

Investigator Nicole Rogus-Pulia, PhD, CCC-SLP, speech-language pathologist and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, specializes in a subset of swallowing disorders known as dysphagia. Additionally, her work focuses on how dementia and related cognitive decline comes hand-in-hand with symptoms of dysphagia. She suggests that cognitive impairments and attention deficits can negatively impact swallow functioning.

Rogus-Pulia was recently featured in two articles by Being Patient, an online source for Alzheimer's disease and brain health news. The articles involved dysphagia and its link to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The articles examine the warning signs that a person may have dysphagia and how to help a loved one with the condition.

“People with dementia who experience dysphagia — along with its common symptoms such as coughing and choking during meals — will often recuse themselves from family dining, which can be isolating for them, and distressing for their loved ones,” Pulia said.

This can place stress within the household and reduce a person's morale and motivation. Other signs the article wants people to watch out for are things like throat clearing during meals, weight loss, changes in voice quality, and wet or gurgly voice. Precursor age-related illnesses are also a main-stay in the development of dysphagia. These precursor illnesses include, but are not limited to, stroke and obstructive pulmonary disease. With this in mind, the article states how the caregivers of an individual who may suffer from this common elderly disorder play a major role in preventing negative complications and outcomes. This is because the caregivers are the ones who have the best knowledge of a loved one’s medical history and everyday
functioning. Those who suspect dysphagia are urged to consult a physician.

"Dysphagia: Navigating Difficulty With Swallowing and Dementia" was posted on Being Patient on November 19, 2020. "7 Ways to Help a Loved One with Eating and Swallowing Difficulties" was posted on Being Patient on November 25, 2020.

Story by Mitchell Mocadlo

Photo by Askar Abayev from Pexels