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Swallowing Problems at the End of the Palliative Phase: Incidence and Severity in 164 Unsedated Patients


Swallowing problems are reported to be a common finding in patients who receive palliative care. In existing literature, the incidence of swallowing problems is mostly described in small numbers of patients at the start of the palliative phase. As we hypothesized that the incidence of dysphagia might increase as the palliative phase progresses, this study describes the incidence of swallowing problems and related problems in 164 unsedated patients at the end of the palliative phase, defined by the last 72 h before their death. To determine the incidence of swallowing problems and related problems, questionnaires were completed bereaved by relatives and nursing staff. Our data shows that in the palliative phase the incidence of swallowing problems can be as high as 79 %. A significant correlation was found between swallowing problems and reduced psycho-social quality of life as assessed by nursing staff (ρ = −.284). Overall the nursing staff rated the incidence and severity of swallowing problems (and related problems like frequent coughing, loss of appetite, and problems with oral secretions) lower than the relatives. This study suggests that incidence of swallowing problems at the end of the palliative phase is high and that these difficulties may not only result in discomfort for patients, but also can raise concern for caregivers. More information and education on management of swallowing problems in palliative settings might be needed for both relatives and nursing staff. However, the data also suggest that any intervention should be proportional to the level of distress caused by the intervention.

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The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

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Correspondence to Hans Bogaardt.

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Bogaardt, H., Veerbeek, L., Kelly, K. et al. Swallowing Problems at the End of the Palliative Phase: Incidence and Severity in 164 Unsedated Patients. Dysphagia 30, 145–151 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00455-014-9590-1

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  • Deglutition
  • Deglutition disorders
  • Palliative care