Dysphagia in Elderly Adults

December 17, 2019

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Dysphagia is when someone has a tough time swallowing liquids or foods. This can happen to someone of any age. However, research shows that it is most common in those who are 50 years of age and older. The truth is, though, that it can be a difficult to get a diagnosis for dysphagia because there are so many myths associated with this disorder.  

Is it Dysphagia? 

One of the common misconceptions is that someone is just aspirating or choking. They don’t have dysphagia. However, that isn’t always the case. The cause of choking is due to a blocked airway. If someone is choking, they will generally put their hands around their neck. Aspiration is when someone in inhaled into one’s windpipe and the lungs. When someone is aspirating, they might be able to cough or they may not. Either way, they are still breathing. With this being said, doctors will usually look for coughing while someone is drinking or eating, when looking for dysphagia. However, coughing doesn’t always occur. There is something called silent aspiration in those with dysphagia. This type of aspiration with dysphagia can cause malnourishment or pneumonia if someone doesn’t catch it quickly.  

How is Dypshagia Diagnosed? 

Is your loved one having issues with swallowing? If so, you or their elder care providers should get them to the doctor right away.  

A speech-language pathologist can diagnose dysphagia in a couple of different ways. First, they can use an endoscope to do an internal examination going through one’s nose. This is called a FEES or Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing. In this test, the doctor can see through to the back of one’s throat, so they can see how that person swallows their drinks or foods. Secondly, they can do a VFSS or videofluroscopic swallow study, also called the barium modified swallow study. In this test, the patient swallows food that has barium in it, to show where they food goes. If these tests don’t do the job, there are other tests that can be done, as well.  

Why Do People Have Dysphagia? 

There are a wide range of reasons why someone might have dysphagia. They might have had a stroke, be getting treatments for cancer, have intubation issues post-surgery, have dementia, or have a neurodegenerative disease, such as ALS. 

What is the Treatment for Dysphagia? 

It is also important to know about the treatment options for dysphagia. The first thing to do is to determine why someone has dysphagia. There is rehabilitative therapy which includes a type of therapy known as swallow therapy. This helps with strengthening one’s throat and tongue. There are exercises the person will do to improve their range of motion and coordination. Changes to the person’s diet might also be part of the treatment plan, too. 

These are the things you need to know about dysphagia in elderly adults. Now that you have this information, you can best help your elderly loved one if they are experiencing issues with swallowing their food or drinks.  


If you or your loved one is looking for Home Care or Placement Services in San Jose, CA, please call Familiar Surroundings Home Care. 

Santa Clara County: (408) 979-9990  

San Mateo County: (650) 353-9777 

Santa Cruz County: (831) 480-3990 





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