Aging Parents and Swallowing Problems

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Mealtimes are social occasion for caregivers and families, but unfortunately, many seniors experience difficulty in swallowing food, and find that they are unable to enjoy their dinners. What can you do if your loved one has trouble swallowing food?


The technical term for swallowing problems is dysphagia. While people of any age may develop dysphagia, the condition tends to be more common among the elderly. This does not mean that swallowing issues are part of the normal aging process; rather, it means that conditions that create dysphagia are more common among aging parents, spouses and others.


Everyone has occasional difficulties in swallowing: improperly chewed pieces of food and coughing or talking while swallowing are common causes among all. With dysphagia, the condition is more chronic and recurring.

The process of eating and swallowing is actually fairly complicated, even though people go through the process instinctively and without giving it a great deal of thought. Throat muscles, saliva production, soft pallet and airway movement, and esophagal function are all involved. When any aspect of this process is consistently affected, dysphagia results.

There are a number of conditions which may bring on swallowing issues. These include Parkinson's disease and GERD (gastro-esophagal reflux disorder), by which many aging parent are affected. In addition, some medications have side effects that create swallowing problems. These medications include some that are used to treat conditions common among elderly individuals, such as arthritis.

See a doctor

Those with swallowing issues should consult a doctor to determine what steps need to be taken. In some cases, trying a different medication may be best. In others, working with a speech and language pathologist to identify ways to address the issue may help. Radiologists also occasionally use modified barium swallowing (MBS) to pinpoint the exact areas in which swallowing difficulties occur. The results can then guide a doctor in making a treatment plan.​

Related Article
Ten Mealtime Challenges Senior Face​ -​


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