Swallowing difficulties can be a frustrating and uncomfortable situation that can significantly impact a person's quality of life. Furthermore, they can deprive seniors of their proper nutrients. These difficulties can be summed up through a condition called dysphagia.
What is Dysphagia in the Elderly?
Put simply, dysphagia is when an elderly individual has difficulties swallowing. The geriatric syndrome affects 10-33% of older adults and can be diagnosed via a swallow test for the elderly. The patient simply needs to swallow water during this bedside exam, and a physician will examine the muscles used for swallowing.
How Long Can an Elderly Person Live with Dysphagia?
Dysphagia in elderly life expectancy cannot be determined on its own, since it depends on the underlying cause and severity of the condition, as well as other factors such as overall health, age, and access to medical care. For example, if dysphagia is caused by a viral infection or injury, it can be resolved on its own without treatment. However, if Parkinson’s disease, ALS, or other progressive conditions cause dysphagia, it may significantly impact life expectancy.
What Are the Signs of Dysphagia in the Elderly?
When experiencing swallowing difficulties, elderly individuals should speak to their healthcare provider to determine underlying causes and treatment methods. Furthermore, they should receive emergency care immediately if an obstruction causes breathing difficulties. Signs of elderly dysphagia include:
Pain while swallowing or an inability to swallow altogether
Sensations of food getting stuck in the throat or chest
Coughing or gagging while swallowing
Food or stomach acid backing up into the throat
What Are the Causes of Dysphagia in the Elderly?
The causes of dysphagia in the elderly include:
Neurological conditions. Diseases such as multiple sclerosis, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease can cause issues with swallowing. Stroke and brain tumors can also cause dysphagia.
Developmental conditions. Cerebral palsy and learning disabilities can have a significant impact on swallowing ability.
Conditions that cause obstruction. Mouth cancer, pharyngeal pouches, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, tuberculosis, and other conditions may cause obstructions and therefore, difficulty swallowing.
Muscular conditions. Conditions that affect the muscles’ ability to swallow food, such as scleroderma and achalasia, can all cause dysphagia.
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What is Treatment for Dysphagia in Elderly Adults?
Some ways to treat and manage dysphagia include:
Safely thicken medications. Talk to your doctor about whether your medication is safe to crush and swallow with thickened beverages or foods such as pudding or applesauce.
Stay hydrated with thickened beverages. Hydration is key when you have dysphagia but beverages must be altered with thickening agents, such as gels or powders found in pharmacies. Furthermore, you should avoid ice cream and jello since they can be thinned out upon melting.
Avoid using straws. They could make it difficult to get liquid down the throat since it essentially thins the liquid and can cause aspiration.
Eat nutritious foods. This includes high-fat foods or pureed foods. You can also add protein powders and drink mixes to provide extra nutrients and thicken your beverages.
Practice good posture. This makes it easier for food to go down.
Get treatment for underlying causes. Speak to your doctor about the best treatment methods for your condition.