Caregiver helps senior with a swallowing disorder called dysphagia drink water.

Swallowing Disorders in Seniors

Last updated on September 01, 2021

Have you witnessed a senior loved one struggling to eat or drink on a regular basis? Most of us take the basic function of swallowing for granted. But for some older adults, swallowing is not an easy process and can cause uncontrollable bouts of gagging or choking.

The problem may be related to “dysphagia” and can lead to major health issues if not addressed.

What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is a condition that causes difficulties when swallowing food or liquids. This swallowing disorder causes coughing, choking, and sometimes aspiration of food particles or liquid into the lungs. Dysphagia can indicate a medical issue that may require treatment from a healthcare professional.

Dysphagia can happen to anyone at any age but is more likely to occur in older adults, especially those who experience health conditions such as:

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Parkinson’s disease (PD)
  • Stroke

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and growths in and around the esophagus can also affect swallowing.

Signs and Symptoms of Dysphagia

If an older adult occasionally experiences complications eating or swallowing, it is not necessarily a tell-tale sign of dysphagia. Symptoms of dysphagia may include:

  • Taking a long time to eat or inability to finish a meal
  • Drooling or “cheeking” of food instead of swallowing
  • Frequent coughing, gagging, or choking while eating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Chest congestion
  • Aspiration pneumonia

A physician will diagnose dysphagia through a physical examination and tests, including an x-ray, endoscopy, swallowing study, or other exams. The physician will provide a treatment plan that may include diet modification, therapy, or prescribed medications. Surgery may also be needed for severe cases of dysphagia.

In-Home Caregivers Can Help Swallowing Disorders

A professional senior care provider can help your loved one feel more comfortable eating or drinking when you or other family members are unavailable.

In-home caregivers offer companionship and encouragement and can assist with:

  • Monitoring for any choking/swallowing issues
  • Shopping for the right foods
  • Preparing nutritious meals following medical recommendations
  • Ensuring prescribed medications that treat dysphagia are taken
  • Reminders about therapy sessions
  • Reporting back to the family

In addition to following a doctor’s advice, there are ways to cope with dysphagia and ensure your senior sticks to a diet plan:

  • Choose the right foods
    Soft, smooth foods like pudding and yogurt are good choices. Also, you can mash or puree foods, including fruits and vegetables.

  • Encourage slow eating
    Small bites, eating slowly, or eating small meals frequently can help with swallowing.

  • Skip the straw
    Straws allow liquids to enter the mouth quickly, increasing the chance of choking.

  • Avoid ice cream and gelatin
    Ice cream and gelatin melt in the mouth quickly and can increase the risk of aspiration.

With the average life expectancy age increasing, it doesn’t always mean older adults are living healthier. Many seniors have chronic health conditions, such as dysphagia, that require daily management and care. A professional caregiver can be instrumental in navigating your loved one’s home care and helping to improve their quality of life.

Take the next step by calling your local home care office today to learn more about Visiting Angels’ personalized services, including the monitoring of swallowing and eating disorders.

If you're interested in our compassionate home care services for you or a loved one, contact your nearest Visiting Angels home care agency today or call 800-365-4189.
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