Swallowing is a reflex response but this can change as we age. Some of us may begin to experience dysphagia and have difficulty swallowing our foods or liquids. Dysphagia can range from mild to severe, where some people even feel extreme pain while trying to swallow. If left untreated, Dysphagia can become a serious health issue. Let’s try to understand why swallowing difficulties in seniors occur and learn how we can help them. If you or your parents are struggling with swallowing, it may be time to seek professional help.
Reasons for Swallowing Difficulties in Seniors
Swallowing difficulties may occur due to problems with the esophagus, tongue, or cheek muscles. Other times, decayed teeth or poorly fitted dentures may be the culprit. Sometimes, your loved one’s medications can be the cause of the problem too. However, swallowing difficulties may also be linked to serious health issues like stroke, cognitive disorders and even, cancer.
Symptoms of Swallowing Difficulties in Seniors
If your loved ones suffer from dysphagia, they will have difficulty swallowing their food or drinks during their mealtimes. They may complain of pain or the sensation of food getting stuck in their throat while swallowing. In serious cases, they may choke on their food or gag while struggling to swallow, or regurgitate and vomit after their meals. Other symptoms include drooling and hoarseness.
Consequences of Swallowing Difficulties
If your loved ones continue to have swallowing difficulties, they may have food refusal and even lose weight. Without medical intervention, problems like dehydration and even malnutrition may soon occur to your loved ones. In some cases, aspiration pneumonia, a condition where food or liquid enters your loved one’s airway, may cause dire consequences – this condition introduces bacteria into the lungs and can lead to serious health complications.
Solutions for Swallowing Difficulties in Seniors
If your loved ones have swallowing difficulties, there are treatment options based on their specific swallowing disorder. If they suffer from a weakening of their mouth and throat muscles, they can be referred to a speech therapist. There, they will learn techniques to help them swallow, especially if their swallowing difficulties are caused by cognitive issues.
Do note that your loved ones may require a feeding tube to provide them with sufficient nutrition. However, if they can still swallow, you can give them semi-solid foods and foods that are easy to swallow. You should also ensure they avoid sticky, crunchy, or hard food textures. Remind your loved ones to take smaller bites of food too.
However, despite your best efforts, they may still develop an aversion to eating. If that happens, you can try catering to their food preferences and provide adequate mealtimes. To help prevent choking, try to create a distraction-free environment when your loved ones are eating. To encourage them to eat well, you can spend time eating with them, and even schedule family mealtimes around their meals. With proper treatment and intervention, our loved ones can still enjoy their lives to the fullest.