Swallowing difficulties, also known as dysphagia, is a common problem among seniors. This condition can cause pain, difficulty swallowing or even aspiration of food or liquids into the lungs. Dysphagia can make eating and drinking dangerous and lead to choking, malnutrition, dehydration and pneumonia. In this article, we will take a closer look at the various causes of swallowing problems in seniors and what you can do to help your loved one manage this condition.
What Causes Swallowing Difficulties in Seniors?
There are several potential causes of dysphagia in seniors. The most common include poor oral hygiene, stroke or other neurological disease, esophageal cancer and gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD). Other factors that can lead to swallowing difficulties may include weakened muscles from aging, chronic diseases such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease, certain medications or treatments such as radiation therapy for cancer.
How Are Swallowing Difficulties Diagnosed?
If your loved one is experiencing difficulty swallowing, it is important for them to see their physician for an evaluation. A doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask questions about your loved one’s medical history in order to determine if there are any underlying conditions that might be causing the issue. A barium swallow test may also be ordered in order to check for blockages within the esophagus which may interfere with swallowing.
Treatment Options for Swallowing Difficulties in Seniors
The treatment options available depend on the underlying cause of dysphagia which has been identified by your loved one’s doctor. Treatments may include: medications such as muscle relaxants or antacids; physical therapy designed to strengthen the muscles used while swallowing; modified diets that involve softer foods; posture modifications; lifestyle modifications; and/or specialized feeding devices such as cup holders and feeding tubes that allow food intake without putting strain on weaker muscles involved in eating.
It is always best to attempt to prevent dysphagia rather than treat it after it has already occurred. As a caregiver for an elderly individual who is at risk for developing dysphagia due to age-related changes or chronic health conditions, there are several strategies you can incorporate into daily care activities that can help reduce the risk of developing this condition:
- Maintain good oral health: Poor oral hygiene can contribute to dysphagia so brushing teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste is important as well as visiting your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups.
- Promote adequate nutrition: Eating healthy meals with all five food groups each day helps maintain strength and keep body weight at a healthy level which will not put extra strain on weaker muscles used when eating or drinking. Use products like SimplyThick liquid mix to prevent swallowing and aspiration complications.
- Encourage gentle exercise: Gentle exercises like stretching help keep seniors active and improve their mobility which can reduce the likelihood of developing dysphagia from weak muscles associated with aging.
- Monitor medications: Certain medications such as those used for diuretics can contribute to dehydration.So, ensuring that your elderly relative stays hydrated throughout the day should be monitored closely by their doctor or nurse practitioner when certain drugs have been prescribed for them. Additionally, some medications have side effects that may describe symptoms similar to dysphagia so it’s important these drugs are double checked before starting any new medication regimen (or discontinued use if this diagnosis has already been made).
Swallowing problems are common among seniors, but with careful management, they don’t need to impact quality of life.