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Sonja Molfenter

Associate Professor

Communicative Sciences and Disorders


Dr. Sonja Molfenter is a clinically-trained Speech Language Pathologist whose research specializes in understanding the physiological features of both normal swallowing and disordered swallowing (known as dysphagia). Swallowing function is commonly disrupted after many conditions including stroke, brain injury, head and neck cancer and spinal cord injury.

Her over-arching research goal is to produce clinically-relevant research to inform front-line clinical practice. Her research focuses on naturally-occurring muscle loss in the pharynx as the result of aging. Dr. Molfenter's work aims to understand the impact of these age-related changes on swallowing function and explore methods to prevent or reverse these changes. Dr. Molfenter also studies changes to swallowing function after cervical spine surgery.

Selected Publications

  • Brates, D., Troche., M.S. & Molfenter, S.M. (2021). The Role of Fatigue in the Aging Swallow: A Review. OBM Geriatrics. 2021, volume 5, issue 2 doi:10.21926/obm.geriatr.2102166  
  • Brates, D., Namasivayam-MacDonald, A. & Molfenter, S.M. (2021). Survey of Clinician Perspectives and Practices Regarding Swallowing-Related Fatigue. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. Vol 30. 1170-1180.
  • Brates, D. & Molfenter, S.M. (2021). The Influence of Age, Eating a Meal, and Systematic Fatigue on Swallowing and Mealtime Parameters. Dysphagia (e-pub ahead of print).
  •  Namasivayam-MacDonald, A., Riquelme, L.F., & Molfenter S.M. (2020). Establishing a method for quantifying spinal curvature during videofluoroscopic swallow studies: Applying the modified Cobb angle to healthy young and older adults. OBM Geriatrics 2020, Volume 4, Issue 3, doi:10.21926/obm.geriatr.2003129
  • Brates, D., Steele, C., & Molfenter, S.M. (2020). Measuring hyoid excursion across the lifespan: Anatomical scaling to control for variation. Published online ahead of print in Journal of Speech Language Hearing Research. 63(1), 125-134. 
  • Herzberg, E., Brates, D., & Molfenter, S.M. (2019). Physiological compensation for advanced bolus location at swallow onset in healthy seniors. Journal of Speech Language Hearing Research. 62(12):4351-4355.
  • Curtis, J.A., Molfenter, S.M. and Troche, M.S. (2019). Pharyngeal area changes in Parkinson's Disease and its influence on swallowing safety, efficiency, and kinematics. Dysphagia. 35(2):389-398. 
  • Lenell, C., Brates, D., Pearson, W. & Molfenter, S. (2019). Adaptations in healthy swallowing of various bolus conditions using computational analysis of swallowing mechanics (CASM). Dysphagia. 35(2), 272-280.
  • Curtis, J.A., Molfenter, S.M. and Troche, M.S. (2019). Predictors of residue, penetration, and aspiration in Parkinson’s Disease. Dysphagia. 35(2):220-230.
  • Molfenter, S. M., Lenell, C. & Lazarus, C.L. (2019). Volumetric changes to the pharynx in healthy aging: Implications for pharyngeal swallowing mechanics and function. Dysphagia. 34(1):129-137.
  • Brates, D., Molfenter, S.M., Thibeault, S. (2019). Assessing hyolaryngeal excursion: Comparing quantitative methods to palpation at the bedside and visualization during videofluoroscopy. Dysphagia, 34(3), 298-307.
  • Balou, M., Herzberg, E.G., Kamelhar, D. & Molfenter, S.M. (2019). An intensive swallowing exercise protocol for improving swallowing physiology in older adults with radiographically-confirmed dysphagia. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 14:283-288.
  • Turcotte, M., Herzberg, E.G., Balou, M., & Molfenter, S.M. (2018). Analysis of pharyngeal edema post-chemoradiation for head and neck cancer: Impact on swallow function. Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology. 3: 377-383


Communicative Sciences and Disorders Research Colloquium I

This course provides a forum for the presentation of research by eminent researchers in the field of communication sciences and disorders and related disciplines. Students and professional participants are invited to comment, ask questions, and engage in an array of topics in basic science as well as clinical areas. Research papers will be read in advance to prepare for upcoming colloquia. Students in the course will develop their writing skills and learn to formally and concisely write papers about research in CSD.
Course #
CSCD-GE 2420
Communicative Sciences and Disorders

Dysphagia in Adults and Children

Description of swallowing disorders in adults and children associated with various structural, neurological, and behavioral disorders. Assessment and remediating approaches will be addressed.
Course #
CSCD-GE 2060
Communicative Sciences and Disorders

Instrumental Assessment and Treatment of Dysphagia

This problem-based learning course introduces graduate students to instrumental tools used in the evaluation and treatment of swallowing disorders (other than gold-standard videofluoroscopic and endoscopic methods). Students will actively engage in problem-based learning in a group setting and present findings to their peers. This course exposes students to a variety of current instrumental tools for the assessment/treatment of swallowing disorders and promotes the development of life-long learning skills.
Course #
CSCD-GE 2068
Communicative Sciences and Disorders