Understanding Your Elderly Loved One's Dysphagia: Information For Caregivers

13 December 2015
 Categories: Health & Medical , Blog

When you have a loved one who is elderly and requires care and companionship, you may find yourself in a situation that is often confusing and challenging to navigate. After all, caring for an adult can be far different from raising children and presents a unique set of circumstances and conditions that you will need to deal with. One of these issues that may arise is known as dysphagia. In order for you to ensure that you handle your loved one's dysphagia properly and get them the treatment they need from an ear, nose, and throat doctor, you need to better understand the condition and the effects it has on your elderly loved one's body and daily life.

Defining Dysphagia

Essentially, dysphagia is a term that is applied to swallowing disorders or difficulty swallowing. It occurs when the muscles in the throat, mouth, and esophagus are just incapable of pushing saliva, food, or other liquids down into the body properly.

Dysphagia can develop in stages and can range from minor discomfort and difficulties to a nearly complete lack of ability to swallow. It is also important to keep in mind that dysphagia is often a symptom of a larger issue in the body rather than an independent occurrence.

Some of the Causes of Dysphagia in the Elderly

Dysphagia can occur as the result of many different problems in the body. However, when the person experiencing dysphagia is elderly, there are some causes that are more common than others.

Sometimes, dysphagia occurs as a part of the aging process. More often, though, dysphagia can be the result of a stroke or other nervous system issue like Parkinson's disease. Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia may also cause difficulty swallowing as the conditions progress and the areas of the brain that control basic bodily functions are affected.

Treating Your Loved One's Dysphagia

The treatment options available for dysphagia depend upon the severity of the condition as well as the causes. Dysphagia due to Alzheimer's disease or other advanced dementia is not reversible because of the way the brain is impacted. However, you can help your loved one to say nourished by feeding them a liquid diet by hand or through tube feeding and IV fluids when it gets too severe. 

However, dysphagia due to stroke or other causes can be more readily treated. Working with an ear, nose, and throat specialist, you can get your loved one on medications that can help with their dysphagia and related issues such as acid reflux. Your loved one's doctor will work with you to develop coping strategies for ensuring that your loved one still gets the nutrients they need. Surgery is also an option for extreme cases of dysphagia when the muscles seem to be creating a passageway that is too narrow.

Additionally, a speech language pathologist and/or an occupational therapist can work with your elderly loved one to help them learn how to perform exercises to strengthen the muscles in their throat and get them back into shape to properly swallow food and drink. This is especially useful after a stroke, as immediate retraining of the brain and muscles can often lessen the impact of such functional issues in the body. 

Now that you know more about your elderly loved one's dysphagia, you will be better able to handle the situation and provide your loved one with the treatments and support that they need. Click here to learn more from an ear, nose, and throat doctor.