Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) is a neurodegenerative disease that at onset can resemble Idiopathic Parkisnon’s disease. In PSP, however, falls are frequently an early symptom and dysphagia (swallowing difficulty) typically occurs early or by mid-stage disease. Aspiration pneumonia is cited as the most common cause of death.

Patients newly diagnosed and doing their own online research might be frightened to continually see articles describing the association between dysphagia and aspiration pneumonia. We know, however, from swallowing research that dysphagia, alone, is not usually sufficient to yield an aspiration pneumonia, and that other factors must be in place for an individual to succumb to pneumonia, such factors identified include:

  • Dependency in feeding and oral care
  • Advanced age
  • Immobility and advanced disease
  • Weak or impaired cough
Cough is a particularly important protective mechanism that can become deficient or lacking as PSP progresses and the ability of the body to defend against episodes of aspiration is reduced, increasing the risk of lung infection.

Japanese researchers found that PSP patients with falls and early cognitive decline were at high risk for development of pneumonia. It has also been reported that individuals with a diagnosis of PSP are often more sensitive to the changes in swallowing function then persons with Parkinson’s disease, so, screening for dysphagia on each office visit with a neurologist or primary care physician, and early referral to a speech-language pathologist might be the best preventative strategy.

To learn more about Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, visit:

Join Mary Spremulli, MA,CCC-SLP and the Venice Movers and Shakers for a lecture and discussion about swallowing problems and their management for persons with Parkinson’s disease and related disorders.

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