Caretaker Of An Elderly Loved One Diagnosed With Cervical Ostephytes? Read This!

If your elderly parent or loved one lives with you so you can take care of him or her, and they were recently diagnosed with cervical osteophytes, here's some important information you need to know: cervical osteophytes can cause dysphagia. Here's what that means and why it's something you need to be aware of. 

Osteophytes and dysphagia defined

Osteophytes are bone spurs, which are not concerning unless they become painful or—more importantly—are located where they can cause neurological symptoms, such as dysphagia. Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing. As cervical osteophytes are bone spurs in the neck vertebrae, dysphagia can be caused directly by the compression of the esophagus by the bone spurs in the neck. Dysphagia could also be caused by the inflammation of the tissue in the proximal area of the bone spurs.

CAUTION: Do not confuse this with dysphasia (with an a), which is a speech disorder. Dysphagia (with a g) can become deathly serious. 

Dysphagia can lead to aphagia

If dysphagia occurs and your parent has a difficult time getting food and drinks down, they could easily lose weight and become dehydrated. However, the most important thing to understand about dysphagia is that it can lead to aphagia if the esophagus and related muscles are no longer working properly or being used, similar to atrophy. Aphagia is the complete inability to swallow. The health of someone who is completely unable to swallow can decline very rapidly, which is particularly true for the elderly.

Depending on their health, weight, and many other factors, their organs can begin shutting down soon after due to dehydration. Should aphagia become apparent, your loved one will need to have a nasogastric tube placed. They likely would not be strong enough to have a gastrostomy, which is a surgically implanted feeding tube. 

Symptoms of dysphagia & aphagia

Now that you understand the seriousness of dyphagia and aphagia, it's time to learn the symptoms and how to detect them, especially in someone who isn't cooperative in case your parent has dementia or is in denial due to fear.

Of course, choking, gagging, and coughing when eating are huge red flags that they are having difficulty swallowing. Unexplained weight loss is another obvious symptom. Hoarseness, drooling, and heartburn are other symptoms. They may pound on their chests and complain of feeling like there's something stuck in their throat. With aphagia, they simply will not be able to swallow. They will need to spit their food and drink out if they do attempt to eat.

If your loved one experiences any of these symptoms, they'll need a swallow study done, which can be scheduled by their primary care physician. 

Phonophoresis for treatment of bone spurs 

Fortunately, phonophoresis is a therapy treatment that can help to reduce the risks of your loved one's bone spurs leading to dysphagia and/or aphagia. Phonophoresis is therapeutic ultrasound. It's believed that ultrasound enhances the permeability of skin, which allows topical medication to be delivered deeper into the tissues. According to research published by The National Institutes of Health, phonophoresis combined with a gel containing ketoprofen improved the severity of dysphagia. The treatment also helped relieve cervical muscle tenderness that sometimes occurs in the area of the bone spurs. 

The good news for you and your parent is there are portable ultrasound units available on the market. There are also some available through online purchase from websites like Purchase a unit and ask your parent's primary care physician or physical therapist to show how the unit is to be used for bone spurs in the neck. Ketoprofen is only available with a physician's prescription, but there may be other gels that can be used based on your parent's specific health issues and goals. 

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