Does your elderly parent have difficulty swallowing food? Liquids? Pills?
If your elderly loved one has a swallowing disorder, they may also have pain while swallowing. Some people may be completely unable to swallow or may have trouble swallowing liquids, foods or saliva. This makes it hard to eat. Often, it can be difficult to take in enough calories and fluids to nourish your body.
Anyone can have a swallowing disorder, but it is more likely in the elderly. Swallowing problems often happen because of other conditions, including
- Nervous system disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and cerebral palsy
- Problems with your esophagus, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Head or spinal cord injury
- Cancer of the head, neck, or esophagus
Medicines can help some people, while others may need surgery. Swallowing treatment with a speech-language pathologist can help. It may be helpful to change your loved one’s diet or hold their head or neck in a certain way when they eat. In very serious cases, people may need feeding tubes.
According to the Mayo Clinic article, Difficulty Swallowing, the signs and symptoms to watch for are:
- Pain while swallowing (odynophagia)
- Not being able to swallow
- Sensation of food getting stuck in their throat or chest, or behind their breastbone (sternum)
- Bringing food back up (regurgitation)
- Frequent heartburn
- Food or stomach acid backing up into their throat
- Unexpected weight loss
- Coughing or gagging when swallowing
When to see a doctor
Again according to the Mayo Clinic article, Difficulty Swallowing, your loved one needs to see a doctor if:
- Obstructions. If an obstruction interferes with breathing, call for emergency help immediately. If they are unable to swallow due to an obstruction, go to the nearest emergency department.
- Ongoing problems. Slight or occasional difficulty swallowing usually isn’t cause for concern or action. But difficulty swallowing can indicate a serious medical problem, such as esophageal cancer. Take them to see their doctor if they regularly have difficulty swallowing or if difficulty swallowing is accompanied by weight loss, regurgitation or vomiting.
If left untreated, Aspiration Pneumonia can develop. Many people with this condition have other serious health problems, which may have a negative effect on their long-term prognosis, or even cause death. Depending on the severity of the condition, it may be necessary to use a feeding tube.
Another excellent article on swallowing is: Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia) in Adults by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.