Swallowing disorders, also know as dysphagia, can be found in all types of patients. However, they’re most commonly found in older adults and seniors. While many patients complain that swallowing disorders are annoying or painful, they can also be very dangerous. The difficultly and pain caused by dysphagia can also lead to dehydration, malnutrition, and the inability to take important medications.
General symptoms of dysphagia include coughing during eating or drinking, a gurgly voice after eating or drinking, extra effort chewing or swallowing, and food or liquid leaking from the mouth. Long-term symptoms of dysphagia include malnutrition, dehydration, weight loss, recurring pneumonia, and the inability to take important oral medications.
While these symptoms are uncomfortable and dangerous, they can also be embarrassing. Many patients start to feel embarrassed when eating around others. Because of this, isolation is also considered a symptom.
The two main causes of swallowing disorders in adults and seniors are injury or illness.
Generally diseases like Parkinson’s disease, ALS, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and muscular dystrophy can cause dysphagia. These diseases cause damage to the muscles and nervous system that control swallowing. Injuries including brain and spinal chord injuries may cause dysphagia. Additionally, cancer, cancer treatments, stroke, and tooth decay may cause swallowing disorders.
The type of treatment needed to dysphagia depends on the cause of the swallowing problem. Common treatments include muscle exercises, special swallowing strategies, and a special diet. The family and caregivers or the patients can help with treatment by understanding it, preparing the food for a special diet, and keeping track of how much is being eaten and drank. Keeping track of food and liquid consumption is especially important. If the family member or caregiver sees that the patient is not eating a drink enough, another treatment may be needed.