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Why Do Seniors Often Have Trouble Swallowing?

Updated: Nov 25, 2021



Comorbid health conditions are the predominant cause of swallowing problems. Popularly known as dysphagia, it affects 16%-23% of the general population. However, this medical condition is much more common among the elderly. Swallowing is a complex motor skill that requires the coordination of multiple nerves and muscles, which is absent in anyone suffering from dementia or Parkinson’s disease, according to experts at Coastal Home Rehab. Thus, they show signs like gurgling sounds, chest congestions or inability to eat properly.

Nutritional intake is the key to good health for seniors, the lack of which can lead to serious physical disorders, like malnutrition, balance issues and impaired recovery time. When they are unable to swallow, nutritional deficiency become a very real risk. So, here’s what you should know about dysphagia to seek early treatment.

Chronic Dysphagia: Why Does it Occur?

The causes of dysphagia can be broadly categorized into two:

1. Oropharyngeal Dysphagia

This condition interferes with all the three stages of eating, chewing of food, pushing it down through the throat with the tongue and finally swallowing it through the pharynx. When the throat muscles are weakened, due to aging, seniors run the risk of choking. They could also feel that the fluids or solids are passing down their windpipe, rather than the esophagus. Feeding through a tube, offering the right combination of foods and beverages, or simply resorting to swallowing therapy are ideal treatments, according to an article on Medical News Today.

2. Esophageal Dysphagia

The elderly might have a feeling that the food is stuck in their chest or the base of their throat while swallowing. There could be severe retrosternal pain in the chest, which radiates back to the neck, back, arms and jaws, and is related to visceral sensation or distension, according to a paper on the Journal of the American Academy of PAs. Damage to the esophageal tissues, narrowed esophagus or diffuse spasms are the main causes of this condition.

Other reasons for dysphagia are weakening of the tongue and cheek muscles or throat complications, following cancer treatment. Due to these, it becomes exceedingly difficult to move the food for swallowing.

How to Detect Swallowing Trouble?

Certain distinct signs indicate potential dysphagia, which require professional intervention. Pay attention to chocking on medicines, painful swallowing, unexpected weight loss and frequent heartburn. In fact, obstructions while swallowing can also lead to troubled breathing, which should be attended to immediately.

Eating small meals, avoiding sticky food, and sipping on water in between meals can prevent dysphagia to some extent. However, if it is caused by a medical condition, you should consult a physician immediately.