Swallowing Issues and Aging: What You Should Consider

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If you’re experiencing difficulty swallowing, mealtime or even taking a drink of water can be an unpleasant experience. You may even be avoiding your medications because they’re difficult to swallow.

“Problems with swallowing should not be underestimated,” said Courtney Brimm, MS, CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist, Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC). “It’s important to understand the underlying cause of your swallowing issue so it can be treated.”

There are two types of swallowing disorders that affect an estimated 20 percent of older adults. They are:

  • Dysphagia – This is a serious condition that’s a common consequence of many medical conditions, including stroke and chronic diseases that affect the nervous system. It also may be brought on by head or neck surgery. Untreated, dysphagia may lead to malnutrition, dehydration or aspiration pneumonia.
  • Presbyphagia – This is caused by natural changes to the anatomy and physiology, which happens as people age.

Presbyphagia can contribute to loss of functional reserve, which is the body’s ability to continue functioning when we’re ill or stressed in some way,” said Brimm, a member of YRMC’s Physical Rehabilitation Services team. “Presbyphagia can also negatively impact your quality of life and independence.”

What are the signs you may have a swallowing disorder? Discomfort while eating and drinking is a red flag. This can lead to unintentional weight loss as some people will avoid eating because they’re so uncomfortable.

“Many people may feel as though they are unable to make the swallow happen,” explained Brimm. “They have a sense of food, liquid, or pills sticking in their throat.”

During Swallowing Issues and Aging: What You Should Consider, Brimm highlights:

  • How swallowing changes with age.
  • Warning signs that you may have a swallowing disorder.
  • Swallowing safety.
  • What to do if you suspect you have a swallowing disorder.

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