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Getting A Grip On Swallowing Problems
By Roya Sayadi, Ph.D., CCC-SLP and Joel Herskowitz, M.D.
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
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
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
“I have a hard time eating steak.”
“When I swallow, juice goes up my