Recognising the signs of swallowing issues in older adults

Any failure in the act of swallowing is known as dysphagia.

Dysphagia can involve problems with any part of the process, including sucking, chewing, swallowing food, drinks, medication or saliva, and preventing substances from entering the airway and lungs. It can also include difficulty keeping the lips closed to hold food, liquid or saliva inside the mouth. Further down, if oesophagus valves are weakened, food, drink and stomach acid can come back up.

Signs to look for

signs to look for include coughing before swallowing, during or after eating, heartburn or reflux, drooling, frequent chest infections, storing food in the cheeks, taking a long time to eat, or reluctance to eat or swallow anything.

Changes in facial features, speech or voice, like slurring or gurgling, could indicate silent aspiration.

People who have experienced stroke are at high risk and should be immediately screened for swallowing problems before ingesting anything.

People with other high-risk medical conditions as outlined above should be asked if they have experienced any issues with swallowing.

What’s next?

It is very important to identify swallowing problems and their cause as early as possible.

A team of health professionals helps to manage dysphagia and navigate individuals through the act of safe swallowing and recovery, with speech pathologists at the helm and dietitians on board to carefully monitor a patient’s ability, progress and nutrition status.

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