The aim of the study was to determine the influence of normal aging on regional transit and the efficiency of bolus clearance during the oral and pharyngeal phases of swallowing. We compared scintigraphically derived oral-pharyngeal transit times and isotope clearance during swallowing in 21 healthy aged volunteers (mean age 68 +/- 8 yr) and 9 young controls (mean age 28 +/- 7.5 yr). Subjects swallowed 5- and 10-ml water boluses mixed with 30 MBq 99mtechnetium tin colloid. Oral and pharyngeal transit times, pharyngeal clearance time, and postswallow residual counts in each region were derived from time-activity curves. Pharyngeal residual counts were significantly greater in the aged than in controls (P = 0.0008), but age did not influence oral residual. Aging significantly prolonged oral transit time (P = 0.02), pharyngeal transit time (P = 0.0004), and pharyngeal clearance time (P = 0.0001). We conclude that normal impairs the efficiency of pharyngeal clearance during swallowing, prolongs scintigraphic measures of oral-pharyngeal transit, and increases the exposure time of the glottis to the swallowed bolus.