What Common Swallowing Complications Affect the Elderly?

What Are Some Common Swallowing Difficulties that Affect Seniors?

By 8  am On

Eating healthy is especially important in the senior years, but some aging adults experience difficulty with their swallowing abilities, making this task more challenging. The National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders estimates 20 percent of adults over 50 and most over 80 have some type of swallowing complication. Here’s a list of swallowing complications your senior loved one may develop. 

Poor Muscle Control

Aging causes people to lose muscle tone, including strength in the muscles used to chew and swallow. Most seniors experience mild symptoms, but preexisting conditions like dementia can significantly worsen these symptoms. Coughing, choking, or difficulty swallowing food usually accompanies poor control of the throat muscles. Your loved one’s physician can recommend therapies to control throat muscles and provide nutritional advice to resolve some eating difficulties. 

Caring for a senior with dementia can be challenging for family caregivers. Luckily, there is dementia care Columbia families can rely on. Professional dementia caregivers help seniors with dementia stay safe and comfortable at home by preventing wandering, providing cognitive stimulation, and assisting with household chores. 

Dry Mouth

As people age, they sometimes begin to produce less saliva. Reduced saliva production is worsened by dehydration, which is common among seniors. To combat swallowing problems caused by lack of saliva, encourage your loved one to drink the recommended amount of water each day. Herbal teas are also an option to help your loved one stay hydrated, but he or she should avoid sugary or caffeinated beverages because they can exacerbate dehydration. 


The vocal cords become thinner and smaller with age, making it difficult for some seniors to swallow food or beverages safely. Seniors with thin vocal cords have an increased risk of inhaling food into the lungs, also known as aspiration. When left untreated, aspiration can cause lung infections like pneumonia. Symptoms of aspiration include choking, coughing, and hoarse speaking after eating or drinking. 

If your senior loved one has been diagnosed with a serious condition and needs help with tasks like meal prep, transportation, bathing, and grooming, reach out to Assisting Hands Home Care, a leading provider of elder care families can trust. We also offer comprehensive care for seniors with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.

Small Throat

A senior may develop a small esophageal sphincter, which is the opening at the top of the throat. This can make swallowing even small pieces of food difficult. Other seniors naturally have longer, smaller throats. When combined with weakened muscles, the time it takes to swallow increases and food can remain in the throat instead of entering the stomach. Talking to a doctor or nutritionist can help you choose foods that are easier for your loved one to safely swallow. 

Difficulty swallowing and other eating issues can make caring for aging adults increasingly challenging, but help is available. Columbia home care services professionals can be a wonderful boon to seniors. Whether they require around-the-clock supervision or just need assistance with exercise and household tasks a few days a week, seniors can enjoy a higher quality of life with the help of trusted in-home caregivers. Trust your loved one’s care to the professionals at Assisting Hands Home Care. Reach out to one of our compassionate Care Managers today at 443-233-1245.