Study uncovers why elderly people struggle to swallow

A new study has revealed people naturally lose muscle and function in the throat as they age, making it harder for food to move from the mouth to the space above the food pipe.

Shamir Patel, Chemist-4-U

Combined, these factors can lead to a host of serious health issues, including malnutrition, dehydration and pneumonia from food and drinks being misdirected into the lungs.

Experts say the joint causes are costing the NHS millions of pounds in additional care for older people who can require lengthy hospital treatment.

Last week it was revealed how two English patients died and five came to ‘significant harm’ after they were fed inappropriate food such as hash browns and sponge cake while in hospital between 2015 and 2017.

To limit the number affected, researchers say elderly patients should be encouraged to practise specific throat muscle exercises.

The research was led by Dr Sonja Molfenter, an assistant professor of communicative sciences and disorders at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

She says her team’s work helps explain why an estimated 15 per cent of elderly people experience dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing.

Dr Molfenter said: “Dysphagia has serious consequences for health and quality of life.

“This research establishes the need for exercise programmes for older adults that target throat muscles just like those that target the muscles of the arms, legs and other parts of the human body.”

The scientists tested their theory on 44 healthy OAPs, of which 21 were men.

Each was given a small amount of the chemical barium to chew on, followed by an oral breathing test.

Other studies have demonstrated that when patients with dysphagia are admitted to the hospital, they normally experience a 40 per cent longer length-of-stay than those without the condition.

The research could prove significant, with the UK and other advanced economies experiencing increasingly older populations.

In 2016 the UK population stood at 65.6 million, a figure projected to reach 74 million by 2039.

Improvements in healthcare and lifestyles mean 18 per cent of people are now aged 65 and over, with 2.4 per cent aged 85 and above. By 2036, 23 per cent are expected to be aged 65 and over.

Pharmacist Shamir Patel, of online pharmacy, says: “Dysphasia affects many people in the UK, including a large number of elderly patients.

“The condition can also occur after a stroke or a head injury, or affect people with dementia.

“Dysphagia needs to be carefully managed, especially in settings such as hospitals and care homes.

“Identifying and establishing a set of exercises to reduce the number of elderly people suffering from dysphagia is really important.”

Shamir recommends using a swallowing aid which can ease the passage of medicines down the throat, such as Med-Easy.

He said: “For the elderly population as well as difficulty swallowing food, problems with swallowing medication can also cause considerable harm.

“Using a swallowing aid is really important because such liquids wrap themselves around the medication which means that rather than resting on the tongue, the tablet is suspended in the formula and therefore free to flow down the oesophagus with ease.

“It is chemically passive, therefore compatible to take with almost any medication.”

Med-Easy can be used with medical pills, tablets and liquid-filled capsules, as well as vitamin preparations and food supplements.

You simply place the medication on the spoon provided, add 10ml of Med-Easy and then swallow.



The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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