What Common Swallowing Complications Affect the Elderly?

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Eating healthily is especially important in the senior years, but some aging adults experience difficulty with their swallowing abilities, making this task more challenging. The National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders estimates 20 percent of adults over 50 and most over 80 have some type of swallowing complication. The staff at Home Care Assistance, a leading provider of home care Palm Beach families trust, has put together a list of swallowing complications your senior loved one may develop.

Poor Muscle Control

Aging causes people to lose muscle tone, including strength in the muscles used to chew and swallow. Most seniors experience mild symptoms, but preexisting conditions like dementia can significantly worsen these symptoms. Coughing, choking, or difficulty swallowing food usually accompanies poor control of the throat muscles. Your loved one’s physician can recommend therapies to help control throat muscles and provide nutritional advice to help resolve some eating difficulties.

Dry Mouth

As people age, they sometimes begin to produce less saliva. Reduced saliva production is worsened by dehydration, which is common among seniors. To help combat swallowing problems caused by lack of saliva, encourage your loved one to drink the recommended amount of water each day. Herbal teas are also an option to help your loved one stay hydrated, but he or she should avoid sugary or caffeinated beverages because they can exacerbate dehydration.


The vocal cords become thinner and smaller with age, making it difficult for some seniors to swallow food or beverages safely. Seniors with thin vocal cords are at an increased risk of inhaling food into the lungs, also known as aspiration. When left untreated, aspiration can cause lung infections like pneumonia. Symptoms of aspiration include choking, coughing, and hoarse speaking after eating or drinking.

Small Throat

Some seniors develop a small esophageal sphincter, also known as the opening at the top of the throat. A reduced sphincter can make swallowing even small pieces of food difficult. Other seniors naturally have longer, smaller throats. When combined with weakened muscles, the time it takes to swallow increases and food can remain in the throat instead of entering the stomach. Talking to a doctor or nutritionist can help you choose foods that are easier for your loved one to safely swallow. If you notice your loved one experiencing complications with swallowing, make sure to take him or her to a doctor to get a proper diagnosis. Difficulties with swallowing often accompany a stroke or Parkinson’s disease as well, which may require the help of a Palm Beach live-in home caregiver. At Home Care Assistance, our caregivers can help with meal prep, transportation to medical appointments, and much more. For additional information on our senior care services, call one of our qualified Care Managers at (561) 429-8292 to schedule a free consultation.


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