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Why do the elderly have trouble swallowing?

Why are swallowing issues more common in seniors?

As we age our bodies start to slow down and become weaker, including our mouth muscles. According to the NHS, “the muscles used for swallowing can become weaker with age,” which is one of the reasons why swallowing issues are more common amongst the elderly.

Another reason that can impact swallowing is “missing teeth or shifting tooth position that affects how we “prepare” food to be swallowed.” As we age, it is natural to lose our teeth. Wobbly teeth and deterioration of the jawbone are just some of the causes of tooth loss in seniors.

Overall, it naturally comes down to how our bodies age, as bones and muscles tend to shrink and lose mass. However, issues with swallowing can be treated and it’s important to get in touch with your GP when you notice any warning signs and symptoms.

Why swallowing problems should be taken seriously

At times, we don’t realise how much swallowing can impact our lives. It is a real concern when swallowing becomes difficult especially amongst the elderly, as nutritional and fluid intake is important.

As we grow older, it is natural to experience a loss in appetite and a see a decrease in fluid intake, but swallowing problems can contribute to this. When you can’t swallow food properly, this will limit the amount of nutrition your body receives. This can also lead to dehydration, weight loss and chest infections.

Swallowing can also impact how you take your medication as certain tablets or liquids can be hard to swallow. If this is the case, contact your GP, who can prescribe you medication that’s easy to ingest, such as dissolvable tablets.

What Is dysphagia?

According to Mayo Clinic, “Dysphagia is difficulty swallowing” it happens when “it takes more time and effort to move food or liquid from your mouth to your stomach.” It can be painful, but there are treatments available.

It can occur at any age however, it is a condition that is prominent within the older generation. It’s a serious medical condition and if it gets worse, you will require treatment.

According to the NHS this condition “can’t usually be corrected using medication or surgery,” however there are three ways to manage it: swallowing therapy, dietary changes and feeding tubes.

Swallowing therapy is when your GP will refer you to a speech and language therapist. They will provide you with techniques and exercises to help you with your swallowing.

You may also be referred to a dietician to ensure you are eating a healthy and balanced diet. You may be advised to have softer foods and thickened fluids, that may be easier to consume. Other forms of getting nutrition and medication are via feeding tubes. This is used until your ability to swallow strengthens.

What causes dysphagia?

There are many causes of dysphagia. This can include:

  • A condition that impacts the nervous system such as a stroke, dementia and multiple sclerosis
  • Brain tumours
  • Cancer – certain cancers such as mouth or throat cancer and radiotherapy treatment can impact your swallowing
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Weakening of mouth and throat muscles

Warning signs & symptoms of dysphagia

According to the NHS, it is important to look out for warning signs and symptoms of dysphagia. This can include:

  • Coughing or choking when eating or taking in fluids
  • Problems swallowing certain foods or liquids
  • Bringing food back up
  • Drooling of saliva
  • Unable to chew food properly
  • A wet sounding voice when eating and drinking

If you suffer from any of these symptoms, you should contact your GP immediately.

How Helping Hands can support with dysphagia

At Helping Hands, we have been providing care at home since 1989 and we are one of the leading home care providers in the UK. So, you can have full confidence that you’ll be well looked after by our compassionate and dedicated carers.

Our carers are trained to assist you at mealtimes, so they can help support you with conditions like dysphagia. They will help prepare your meals to ensure your body is receiving the right nutrients. This can include pureeing or crushing foods to make them easier to swallow. Our carers can also monitor your medication. If you are having difficulty swallowing certain tablets, we can help you get in touch with your GP to find an alternative solution.

As we are regulated and monitored by the Care Quality Commission and Care Inspectorate Wales, you can rest assured that you will receive the highest quality of care, you truly deserve. For more information on how our carers can help support you with dysphagia, contact our friendly customer care team today.

Page reviewed by Deanna Lane, Senior Clinical Lead on August 1, 2022