As we age our ability to do many things changes. There are very clear changes that happen to our body as we move into older age which may include obvious signs such as not being able to run that marathon race and no longer being able to wear 5” heels all day. Some more subtle changes occur as well. One subtle but very significant change which occurs as we age is changes to our swallowing mechanism. Research has shown that our coordination between breathing (respiration) and swallowing changes as we move into our later years. The jury is still out on whether or not this change in coordination is a natural protective mechanism to slow down the process, or whether it is due to overall decreased muscle mobility. Either way, any changes to our swallow can put us at risk for
aspiration and potential pneumonia. Speech-language Pathologists are great resources to help you to ensure you are swallowing safely well into your golden years.
Some things to keep in mind as potential signs or symptoms of a possible swallowing problem include:
1) Having to swallow more multiple times to get the food down.
2) Pain during your swallow.
3) A significant increase in the amount of time it takes you to finish a meal.
4) A ‘wet’ sounding voice after eating or drinking.
5) Coughing while chewing, during your swallow or after your swallow.
These are just a small sample of some of the signs of a possible swallowing problem. When in doubt, contact your family doctor or Speech-language Pathologist if you have concerns about your swallow or about someone you love and to determine if therapy may be required.
Ensuring we are swallowing safely can drastically help maintain quality of life at every age. Eat well!!
Stephanie Mathias, M.S-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist, Reg. CASLPO