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Getting A Grip On Swallowing Problems

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

(Page 2 of 4)

It's Not Just The Elderly

You don’t have to be 65 or older to have a swallowing problem. Persons with a wide variety of medical and neurologic disorders are vulnerable. These disorders include stroke, multiple sclerosis, cancer, ALS, myasthenia gravis, head injury, congestive heart failure, and COPD.

Here are some typical scenarios:

  • A 49-year-old man with multiple sclerosis was able to chew. But after he swallowed, some food remained in his throat. It was sucked into his airway; and, because his cough was so weak, the material made its way to his lungs to cause pneumonia.

  • A 56-year-old woman treated for salivary gland cancer had an extremely dry mouth and exquisitely painful sores inside her cheeks. Chewing was painful and made eating unpleasant, leaving her feeling drained physically and emotionally.

  • A 64-year-old woman with a recent stroke had difficulty drinking liquids. They caused fits of coughing that brought tears to her eyes. A bout of pneumonia put her back into the hospital and delayed her neurologic recovery.

As For The Elderly:

A 72-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease did everything slowly. That included swallowing. Food often got stuck in his throat and caused him to cough and gag.

An 82-year-old man with Alzheimer’s was extremely distractible and could no longer use a fork or spoon. He had also “forgotten” what to do with food once it was in his mouth. A single swallow could take three minutes or longer. Not surprisingly, he frequently became dehydrated.

What People Complain Of

These are some of these things people complain of when they have a swallowing problem:

  • “The food doesn’t go down.”

  • “I have to swallow more than once.”

  • “My nose runs at mealtimes.”

  • “Pills get stuck in my throat.”

  • “I cough when I drink water.”

  • “The food falls out of my mouth.”

  • “I have a hard time eating steak.”

  • “When I swallow, juice goes up my nose.”


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