Morbidity and mortality from aspiration pneumonia continues to be a major health problem in the elderly. A swallowing disorder, such as a delayed triggering of the swallowing reflex, exists in patients with aspiration pneumonia. We found that the swallowing reflex in elderly people was temperature-sensitive. The swallowing reflex was delayed when the temperature of the food was close to body temperature. The actual swallowing time shortened when the temperature difference increases. The improvement of swallowing reflex by temperature stimuli could be mediated by the temperature-sensitive transient receptor potential (TRP) channel. The administration of a pastille with capsaicin as an agonist stimulus of TRPV1, a warm-temperature receptor, decreased the delay in swallowing reflex. Food with menthol, an agonist of TRPM8, a cold-temperature receptor, also decreased the delay in swallowing reflex. Olfactory stimulation such as black pepper was useful to improve the swallowing reflex for people with low activity of daily living (ADL) levels or with decreased consciousness. Oral care also shortened the latent time of swallowing reflex presumably due to stimulating the nociception of the oral cavity. A combination of these sensory stimuli may improve the swallowing disorders and prevent aspiration pneumonia.
The Japanese Pharmacological Society 2011