Dysphagia is a swallowing disorder that can affect seniors and adults at any age. It can cause difficulty in eating, drinking, or even speaking. While dysphagia is more common among seniors, it can occur in anyone regardless of age. In this article, we’ll explore the causes of dysphagia in seniors to help you better understand the symptoms and risk factors associated with this condition.
What is Dysphagia?
Dysphagia is a medical term used to describe any difficulty swallowing either solid foods or liquids. It can be caused by issues with the muscles or nerves involved in swallowing, diseases like dementia or stroke that may impair the movement of the throat muscles or anatomical abnormalities such as an enlarged tonsil or tongue. People with dysphagia may experience coughing or choking when trying to swallow food, pain in the chest or throat while eating, frequent pneumonia due to food particles entering the lungs, and weight loss due to poor nutritional intake.
Risk Factors for Dysphagia Among Seniors
Some of the risk factors for dysphagia among seniors include:
- Impaired mobility due to arthritis or other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
- Dental issues like ill-fitting dentures or poor oral hygiene.
- Certain medications.
- Nutritional deficiencies like anemia.
Certain medical treatments can also cause dysphagia, such as radiation treatment to the head and neck area, which can influence swallowing ability. Many times, elderly individuals are unable to adequately express what they are feeling because their neurological function may have declined, so it is important for family members to pay attention to changes in their behavior that could signal a dysphagia issue. In addition, those who take medications on a regular basis should be aware that some drugs can potentially cause dysphagia. Examples include anticholinergics (used to treat COPD) and calcium channel blockers used for hypertension.
Symptoms of Dysphagia in Seniors
The primary symptom of dysphagia is difficulty swallowing but other symptoms may include:
- Choking while eating.
- Coughing while drinking.
- Persistent sore throat.
- Excess saliva production.
- Feeling food caught in your throat.
- Sudden inability to control drooling.
- The sensation of food sticking when going down your throat.
- Chest pain after eating or drinking.
- Painless weight loss associated with poor nutrition from not being able to consume enough calories per day due to difficulty swallowing.
Diagnosis & Treatment for Dysphagia
If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor immediately. They will then likely refer you for further tests such as an endoscopy (a procedure done under anesthetic) and possibly a barium swallow test (an X-ray procedure). Depending on the results from these tests, your doctor will suggest appropriate treatments, which could range from medications that relax spasmatic muscles that contribute to dysphagic episodes to surgical correction if necessary.
Eating and drinking can be problems for dysphagia patients, with food aspiration a significant risk. Thickening agents help to reduce the risk. For example, you can thicken coffee with SimplyThick.
Dysphagia can be a difficult condition for people of any age but those over 65 should be especially vigilant given their already fragile health status.