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Eating is an activity of daily living that we as humans seem to take for granted since it has become something of second nature. But isn’t that mostly the case, until it gets taken away from you? Eating is something that provides nutritional value for energy and growth, is cultural, and is a sociable act. Now try and imagine someone telling you, for whatever reason, that you cannot eat - or even worse drink! You’re told you can no longer eat your favorite foods until further notice and possibly even take a simple sip of water because it may be harmful to your life.

You may be told that you have to alter these foods and drinks to taste differently (mostly not to taste good) so you can swallow safely. All of the sudden, the act of eating becomes not so second nature anymore. Eating loses its enjoyment factor it once held as sacred. The medical term for “swallowing difficulty/disorder” is called a Dysphagia. Dysphagia can occur at any part of the multi-faceted physiology that encompasses swallowing from the mouth to the esophagus.

Dysphagia is not a disease, but a symptom of something else that may be going on. Therefore should you notice your loved one showing signs or symptoms of swallowing difficulties, it is imperative not only to see a Speech – Language Pathologist for a Clinical Dysphagia Evaluation and possible swallowing therapy, but to also see your physician. Possible Signs and symptoms of Dysphagia include the following:

  • Inability to recognize food
  • Difficulty placing food in the mouth
  • Inability to control food or saliva in the mouth
  • Coughing before, during, or after a swallow
  • Gagging
  • Attempts to clear throat during or after swallow
  • Frequent coughing toward the end or immediately after a meal
  • Wet/gurgly voice quality after swallow or during meal
  • Inability to produce voice
  • Increase in secretions in the pharynx or chest after a swallow, toward the end of a meal, or after a meal
  • Change in rate of respiration
  • Difficulty/inability to breathe
  • Change in lung sounds
  • Audible or visual breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Back pain
  • Watering eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Facial reddening
  • Facial grimacing
  • Temperature spikes
  • Reoccurring pneumonia
  • Weight loss when no other reason can be defined

According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, dysphagia can result in:

  • Poor nutrition or dehydration (Palmer, 2000)
  • Risk of aspiration of food or liquid, possibly leading to pneumonia and chronic lung disease (Palmer, 2000). Pneumonia, a prevalent infection in nursing home patients, has the highest mortality rate of any secondary infection in institutionalized elderly patients.
  • Decreased enjoyment of eating or drinking
  • Isolation or embarrassment in social situations involving eating
  • Physical discomfort

The prevalence of dysphagia increases with age and is particularly problematic for geriatric patients. The risks can be devastating to this population (Morris, 2006; Wilkins, 2007). Overall prevention, early identification, and treatment of swallowing problems can have a significant positive impact on overall health and quality of life.

(This article by Speech/Language Pathologist Amy Reinstein, M.S., CCC  SLP, originally appeared on the Caregiving Partnership blog. Read more at www.amyspeechlanguagetherapy.com)

About R.O.S Therapy Systems: R.O.S. Therapy Systems began as a backyard project in 2010. Scott Silknitter was searching for tools to help his mother care for his father, Roger Owen Silknitter, during a 25-year fight with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. That project became a personal mission to help all family caregivers. From family caregiver training and activity books to mobile apps to activity systems, R.O.S. has grown to become a single-source provider of informational “how to’s” and a growing provider of adaptive tools for the millions of husbands, wives, children, and family members that become caregivers.

Common sense advice and instruction based on proven principles of communication, engagement, and daily living are the heart of everything R.O.S. offers for family caregivers. Improving quality of life for caregivers is our mission, and designing everything for a family caregiver struggling with a loved one is the starting point. Whether it is dementia, diabetes, Parkinson’s, ALS, stroke, visual impairment, developmental disabilities, or any other issue that forces someone to care for a loved one, R.O.S. and its Caregiving 101 program are here to help.