Your Proactive Caregiver Advocate: Dr. Cynthia Speaks!

Topic: Nutrition, Swallowing Concerns with Elders

Who would not like a thick steak with a baked potato and all the trimmings and a side salad with big chunks of cheese and favorite creamy dressings? I am making myself hungry! Seniors can have trouble eating such meals. They can choke and suffocate of foods caught in the throat. There are also health challenges that can create swallowing problems. There is a word for swallowing problems.

What is dysphagia?

In a nutshell, it is difficulty swallowing. The inability to swallow makes it difficult to consume calories and fluids to nourish the body. We all know what occurs without proper nutrition. Without fueling the body, medical problems will surely develop.

Dysphagia is common as seniors get older. Chocking is also common as seniors get older. Swallowing difficulties can be a debilitating condition and can affect nutritional health compromises. There are many reasons that can create this problem. Without listing a host of possible causes and diseases of high concern, I will highlight that, persons that have had a stroke, Parkinson disease, dementia, throat cancers, and aging; all can diminish control of throat muscles, inhibiting swallowing.

What to watch out for include:

· Drooling.

· Difficulty controlling food in the mouth.

· Coughing or gagging when swallowing.

· Sensation of food getting stuck in the throat.

· Inability to control saliva in the mouth.

· Choking on liquids.

Due to the natural aging process and normal wear and tear, the throat can be impaired. Some conditions, such as stroke or Parkinson’s disease are at higher risk of swallowing difficulties and chocking. Dysphagia is not considered a normal sign of aging, but with medical conditions and aging, it can develop.

While many swallowing difficulties cannot be avoided (based on disease or illness), you can reduce some of the associated risk of choking on foods by encouraging seniors to eat slowly and chew foods well. Soft foods can also help if swallowing problems and muscles in the mouth and throat is suspected. Cutting up food into small bites and drinking with meals can help foods travel to the right path…into the stomach and out.

If you experience someone choking, call 911. But while they are coming, you should learn the Heimlich maneuver. This procedure help push lodged foods out of the airway.

For more information on learning the Heimlich maneuver, visit the American Heart Association.



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Dr. Cynthia J. Hickman

Dr. Cynthia J. Hickman

Dr. Hickman is the author of From the Lens of Daughter, Nurse, and Caregiver: A Journey of Duty and Honor and The Black Book of Important for Caregivers.