Swallowing problems can be quite common in older people. Some of them have trouble swallowing food or liquids. This condition is known as dysphagia and it can result in dehydration, malnutrition, or aspiration pneumonia. It is difficult watching someone having trouble swallowing and not knowing how to help. It is good for caregivers to know what dysphagia is, why it is serious, the common signs and symptoms, and also the causes of it.
What Is Dysphagia?
Dysphagia refers to difficulty swallowing. It can occur in adults of any age but it is more common for older adults, especially people with acid reflux. Around 15% of mature adults and as many as 68% of residents in nursing homes are affected by dysphagia.
Why Should You Be Concerned?
You need to be aware of dysphagia because it can result in serious health problems for mature adults, including the following:
- Poor nutrition
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Aspiration pneumonia – a lung infection that is caused by food or liquid substances in the lungs
- Not taking medication properly
Signs and Symptoms of Dysphagia
Having trouble swallowing when eating too fast or not chewing enough once in a while is not the same as exhibiting signs of dysphagia. If you notice frequent signs of dysphagia, you need to bring your older adult to visit the doctor for a checkup as soon as you can.
Here are some signs of dysphagia:
- Choking on food, liquids, or medication
- Coughing while eating or drinking
- Difficulty swallowing food or drinks
- A gurgly sounding voice, usually after eating or drinking
Common Causes of Dysphagia
Any issue in the swallowing process can lead to problems. There are many causes that result in dysphagia so it is important to see a doctor timely to figure it out.
Some common causes are:
- Teeth being in bad condition or dentures that do not fit well
- Aging problems – throat and mouth muscles weakening
- Acid reflux (GERD)
- Cognitive disorders like dementia or Alzheimer’s
- Cancer of the throat, esophagus, or mouth
- Certain medications
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