Simply Swallowing Can Be a Challenge for Some Seniors

About 15 percent of seniors develop dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) and now researchers think they know why.

Apparently as we age we tend to lose muscle mass and function in our throats, making swallowing difficult.

“Dysphagia has serious consequences for health and quality of life,” said study author Sonja Molfenter. “This research establishes the need for exercise programs 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.”

Molfenter is an assistant professor of communicative sciences and disorders at New York University in New York City.

Swallowing is a crucial component of eating, and an inability to swallow can easily lead to other health problems, including, malnutrition, and dehydration. Pneumonia is also a risk if food and drink ends up in the lungs instead of entering the stomach where it belongs.

The research showed that when patients with dysphagia go to the hospital they end up staying there 40 percent longer than those without the swallowing impairment. The findings showed that the longer hospital stays cost about $547 million per year.

The finding are especially relevant since the older population of the United States is growing. By 2030 seniors are expected to make up about 20 percent of the population.