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How to Detect Swallowing Problems in the Elderly

Posted by Brian Spence on Aug 16, 2019 8:00:00 AM

Healthcare, Speech TherapyThe safety of older ones, whether it's someone you care for in a professional capacity or a loved one, is paramount. Pinpointing swallowing issues should be done early because then adjustments can be made accordingly to suit their medical, biological, and interpersonal needs. It can be a challenge to detect issues with swallowing, but there are some clear warning signs to keep in mind.

Watch Patients Who Have Had a Stroke

A stroke can result in issues controlling the mechanisms involved in swallowing. Prompt attention to this matter is necessary, particularly immediately following a stroke. There should be no drink, food, or even oral medications given to a stroke patient until it is absolutely clear their ability to swallow hasn't been affected.

It is recommended to use the ASSIST (Acute Screening for Swallow in Stroke) screening tool. It has five brief questions, and it is one component of The Victorian Dysphagia Screening Model.

Screen Patients With Specific Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions naturally impact the ability to swallow. Although this isn't always the case with the following conditions, the likelihood is relatively high, so taking steps to screen for swallowing issues would be prudent:

  • Striking the head during a fall
  • Delirium
  • Parkinson's disease
  • GORD
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Cancer of the throat, mouth, neck or head
  • General frailty
  • A refusal to swallow food or tablets or pocketing them in the cheeks
  • Mysterious weight loss
  • Speech or vocal changes, such as gurgling or aspirated speech
  • Drooling
  • Heartburn
  • A lack of responsiveness
  • Multiple comorbidities
  • Poor oral health or dental issues

What to Do After Identifying the Problem

Once a swallowing problem has been identified, you should ascertain how long it has been a problem, how severe it is, which foods or liquids are the most difficult to swallow, and if it has been getting worse or only comes and goes.

Getting on top of a swallowing issue—and doing so early on--is key to making sure the patient feels comfortable and is able to maintain an adequate quality of life.

If you are interested in learning more about this and related topics, visit the Healthcare section of our blog.

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