As we age our physical abilities change too. Many people might notice slower reflexes, more trouble with their balance, or just a few more aches and pains. Between 10-33% of older adults also experience a change in one other fundamental process as they age: the ability to swallow easily.
Trouble swallowing, known as “dysphagia,” is more common in older people because many causes of the condition are associated with age including Parkinson’s Disease, deterioration of nerve and muscle function, and dental issues. Stroke is one of the most common causes of dysphagia. Studies show that dysphagia is even more prevalent in people who live in assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
Symptoms of dysphagia include:
- Difficulty moving food or liquids in the mouth
- Trouble initiating swallowing
- Food getting stuck in the throat
- Chest pain or heartburn after swallowing
Because dysphagia makes it hard to swallow foods and liquids, people with the condition can experience malnutrition and dehydration because it’s so difficult for them to consume enough of the daily nutrients they need. In some cases, dysphagia can cause “aspiration,” which is when food or liquids enter the lungs or airways. Aspiration can lead to serious health problems including pneumonia.
Because of the risks to overall health and nutrition, it's important for dysphagia to be diagnosed and managed. If you or a loved one is experiencing trouble swallowing, a visit to the doctor is the first, best step. The doctor will ask for health history and conduct a physical examination. They may also do a water swallow test to evaluate the patient’s ability to swallow. Other advanced “swallow study” tests may be performed if the doctor needs to determine what type of dysphagia the patient has.
The doctor may suggest diet modifications to help make it easier to swallow foods and liquids. Solid foods can be pureed so they’re easier to swallow and liquids may be thickened or thinned depending on the person’s needs. Mom’s Meals® offers a complete menu of pureed meals for people who have trouble swallowing. They’re fully prepared to be easy to swallow and are designed to meet the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics required for dysphagia. Here's more.