Adequate Treatment Begins with Appropriate Assessment
Dr. Johns and his colleagues found that five of the most common geriatric diagnoses, including hearing loss, vertiginous syndromes, otitis media and disorders of the inner and outer ear, are otologic. Head and neck cancer is also relatively common in the geriatric population. The average age of diagnosis for squamous cell carcinoma of the upper digestive tract is 59, and research shows that, with appropriate treatment, survival rates for geriatric patients can equal that of younger patients (Laryngoscope. 2003;113(2):368-372). Throat-related problems, including dysphonia and swallowing difficulties, are also common in the elderly (Laryngoscope. 2012;122(2):332-335).
In the past, many clinicians—and their patients—dismissed certain ear, nose and throat problems as unavoidable parts of the aging process. “When patients come in and say, ‘Doctor, my voice is a little weak,’ there’s sometimes a tendency to say, ‘Well, what do you expect? You’re 80 years old,’” said Karen Kost, MD, president of the American Society of Geriatric Otolaryngology (ASGO). “But, surprisingly often, there will be some underlying pathology. Even if no pathology is found, there’s often something we can do. We can, for instance, augment the vocal cords with injections and rehabilitate their voice, making the patient much more functional. That’s why it’s really important to listen to patients and to search for treatable conditions.”