Voice Problems in Seniors Undertreated

Many believe it's normal part of aging, so they don't get necessary help, study says

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THURSDAY, Sept. 25, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Voice and swallowing problems aren't a normal part of aging, but many seniors with these conditions don't receive treatment, even though they may suffer serious quality-of-life issues such as anxiety, depression and social withdrawal, say Duke University Medical Center researchers.

They surveyed 248 octogenarians and found that almost 20 percent had dysphonia (hoarseness, weakness or loss of voice), and 14 percent had dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). The Duke team also found that 77.6 percent of those with dysphonia and 79.4 percent of those with dysphagia had not sought treatment, even though 55.9 percent of them expressed interest in getting help.

Half of those surveyed weren't aware there are treatments for dysphonia and dysphagia.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery, in Chicago.

"Voice and swallowing issues are serious concerns, and people who want medical care are not getting it," study author and otolaryngologist Dr. Seth Cohen said in a Duke news release.

"Is it because they have so many medical problems, and these issues are getting pushed aside or overlooked? We don't know. What we do know is these medical concerns have a huge impact on quality of life, and more people should be aware of treatments available and be able to obtain them," Cohen said.

Previous research has suggested that almost 25 percent of seniors believe voice and swallowing problems are a normal part of aging. This belief is even more common among seniors with voice and swallowing problems. This attitude may lead some elderly people to simply accept these conditions and not seek treatment, said the Duke researchers.

"Our results highlight the need for better education of the general public and primary-care providers," Cohen said. "Whether this effort leads to increased awareness and/or better outcomes for these patients is the basis of further study. But, for now, we know these problems have a significant negative impact on quality of life, and obtaining appropriate treatment can make a big difference."

More information

The American Academy of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery has more about voice and aging.

SOURCE: Duke Medicine, news release, Sept. 23, 2008

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