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Getting A Grip On Swallowing Problems

By Roya Sayadi, Ph.D., CCC-SLP and Joel Herskowitz, M.D.

(Page 1 of 4)

When you sit down to dinner with your mother, do you wonder why she constantly clears her throat?

Are you puzzled as to why her nose runs after nearly every meal?

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 problem.

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, than falls.

  • 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 thousands more.

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 growing.

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.

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