NYMC Faculty Publications

Title

Speech-Language Pathologists' Views About Aspiration Risk and Comfort Feeding in Advanced Dementia

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

November 2019

Department

Medicine

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are often called upon to assess swallowing function for older adults with advanced dementia at high risk of aspiration and make recommendations about whether the patient can safely continue oral nutrition. OBJECTIVE: To describe the circumstances under which SLPs recommend oral nutritional intake for these patients. METHODS: A mail survey of a national probability sample of SLPs (n = 731). Speech-language pathologists were asked if there were circumstances in which they would recommend oral feeding for patients with advanced dementia at high risk of aspiration, and if yes, to describe the circumstances under which they do so. RESULTS: Six themes emerged: (1) when patient preferences are known; (2) for quality of life near end of life; (3) if aspiration risk mitigation strategies are employed; (4) if physician's preference; (5) if aspiration risk is clearly documented and acknowledged; and (6) if SLP is knowledgeable about current evidence of lack of benefit of feeding tubes in advanced dementia or that nothing by mouth status will not necessarily prevent aspiration pneumonia. CONCLUSIONS: Speech-language pathologists have an important role within the interprofessional team in assessing swallowing in patients with advanced dementia, advising family and hospital staff about risks and benefits of oral feeding, and the safest techniques for doing so, to maximize quality of life for these patients near the end of life. Speech-language pathologists are often faced with balancing concerns about aspiration risk and recommending the more palliative approach of oral feeding for pleasure and comfort, potentially creating moral distress for the SLP.

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