Some older adults have trouble swallowing food or liquids. This serious condition is called dysphagia and could cause malnutrition, dehydration, or aspiration pneumonia.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses to later stages, the person may no longer be able to chew and swallow easily. This is a serious problem. Difficulty with swallowing may lead to choking or cause food or liquid to go into the lungs, which is known as aspiration. This can cause pneumonia, which can lead to death.
Throat dysphagia can be caused by conditions, including: Cancer and/or cancer treatments. Neurological damage from stroke, spinal cord injury or brain injury. Neurological disorders, like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy.
When a person with dysphagia eats or drinks, they cannot swallow correctly. This swallowing disorder causes discomfort, coughing, choking and even aspiration of food particles and saliva into the lungs, which can lead to a serious, potentially life-threatening infection.
Food may have to be minced or pureed to make it safe enough for the person to swallow. Fluids can be thickened so that they are less likely to cause the person to choke. A speech therapist will advise, and your loved one’s doctor will prescribe special thickener that can be used to thicken water, tea and other fluids.
If you stop eating and drinking, death can occur as early as a few days, though for most people, approximately ten days is the norm. In rare instances, the process can take as long as several weeks.
Try canned fruit and cooked vegetables. Fruits or vegetables with tough skins or seeds such as pears, nectarines, apples, cherries, apricots, tomatoes, peas, corn, blackberries, raspberries. Try soft peeled, canned or strained fruit and cooked mashed vegetables.
You should see your doctor to determine the cause of your swallowing difficulties. Call a doctor right away if you’re also having trouble breathing or think something might be stuck in your throat. If you have sudden muscle weakness or paralysis and can’t swallow at all, call 911 or go to the emergency room.
Dysphagia can sometimes lead to further problems. One of the most common problems is coughing or choking, when food goes down the “wrong way” and blocks your airway. This can lead to chest infections, such as aspiration pneumonia, which require urgent medical treatment.
Difficulty swallowing associated with GERD can be treated with prescription oral medications to reduce stomach acid. You might need to take these medications for a long time. Corticosteroids might be recommended for eosinophilic esophagitis. For esophageal spasm, smooth muscle relaxants might help.
When someone is no longer taking in any fluid, and if he or she is bedridden (and so needs little fluid) then this person may live as little as a few days or as long as a couple of weeks. In the normal dying process people lose their sense of hunger or thirst.
The medulla oblongata controls breathing, blood pressure, heart rhythms and swallowing. Messages from the cortex to the spinal cord and nerves that branch from the spinal cord are sent through the pons and the brainstem.
What is dysphagia?