Early dysphagia detection in critically ill patients following prolonged mechanical ventilation

Acutely ill patients often require life-saving measures including breathing tubes and breathing machines (mechanical ventilation; MV).  As our population ages and more people have chronic, complex health conditions, MV is becoming a more common, necessary practice.

Despite medical advances, about 2 out of every 3 adult patients experience swallowing problems (dysphagia) following prolonged MV (>48 hours). Untreated dysphagia decreases quality of life, prolongs hospital stays, and leads to complications such as pneumonia and even death. Early dysphagia identification is key to avoid negative outcomes and high healthcare costs. There is currently no scientifically confirmed way to screen for dysphagia in this population.

To address this gap, my research program will study swallowing in patients following prolonged MV using modern methods, such as airway imaging and tests of breathing, tongue strength and saliva. The results will be combined with patient priorities and other evidence to develop better dysphagia detection methods and personalized treatment approaches.

Ultimately, this will lead to the first scientifically supported screening tool for this population resulting in better health outcomes and reduced care costs.