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Tongue adiposity and strength in healthy older adults


  • This work was presented at the. Nineteenth Annual Meeting of the Dysphagia Research Society, San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A., March 2–5, 2011.

  • This work was supported by NIDCD grant R03 DC009875, Wake Forest School of Medicine Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center (P30 AG21332), and the GCRC grant of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (M01-RR07122). The authors have no other funding, financial relationships, or conflicts of interest to disclose.



To identify treatable risk factors for aspiration in older adults, particularly those associated with sarcopenia, we examined tongue composition. We hypothesized that isometric and swallowing posterior tongue strength would positively correlate with posterior tongue adiposity, and healthy older adults who aspirate would have greater tongue adiposity than healthy older adults who did not aspirate.

Study Design:



Participants were 40 healthy adults, comprised of 20 aspirators (mean age, 78 years) and 20 nonaspirators (mean age, 81 years), as identified via flexible endoscopic evaluation of swallowing. Measures of maximal isometric posterior tongue strength and posterior swallowing tongue strength were acquired via tongue manometry. An index of posterior tongue adiposity was acquired via computed tomography for a 1-cm region of interest.


Posterior tongue adiposity was correlated with posterior tongue isometric (r = 0.32, P = .05) but not swallowing pressures (P > .05) as examined with separate partial correlation analyses. Tongue adiposity did not significantly differ as a function of age, gender, or aspiration status (P > .05).


Lower posterior isometric tongue strength was associated with greater posterior tongue adiposity. However, aspiration in healthy older adults was not affected by posterior tongue adiposity. This finding offers insight into the roles of tongue composition and strength in healthy older adults.

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