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Getting A Grip On Swallowing Problems
By Roya Sayadi, Ph.D., CCC-SLP and Joel Herskowitz, M.D.
When you sit down to dinner with your
mother, do you wonder why she constantly clears her
Are you puzzled as to why her nose runs after nearly
When you give your father juice, do you hold your
breath waiting to see if it goes down the right tube?
When he eats a sandwich, are you on the edge of your seat ready to perform the Heimlich maneuver?
Are you forever looking at the kitchen clock when you
eat with your mother because meals take so long and you’ve got a million things to do?
Do you wonder how your loved one can possibly be
getting enough food or liquid to survive?
If you’ve had any of these concerns, your loved one may
have a significant, potentially serious, swallowing
Common and Often Overlooked
Many people these days know about the
dangers of falling in the elderly. Did you know that
swallowing problems are another major threat to the
elderly? They, too, account for tens of thousands of
deaths in the United States every year. More, perhaps,
Choking, a blockage of the airway,
takes nearly four thousand lives.
Aspiration of food, liquid, or
bacteria-laden material from the mouth into the
lungs causes fatal pneumonia in tens of thousands.
Malnutrition resulting from
swallowing problems causes weakness and
susceptibility to infection that hasten the death of
Nearly 40 million Americans in a total
U.S. population of just over 300 million are elderly (65
years of age and older). From 15 to 50 percent of the
elderly are estimatedsix and 20 million people and
As common as these problems are, they are often
overlooked. The symptoms and situations listed above –
frequent throat-clearing, a runny nose while eating, and
meals that take forever – are but some of the clues that
suggest your loved one has a swallowing problem that
could be life-threatening.