Swallowing difficulty can lead to eating more slowly, eating less, losing weight and becoming dehydrated or malnourished. It can also lead to choking, which cuts off the air supply to the brain.
If you have experienced choking, you’ll know how frightening it can be. It is a life and death matter.
If an older person inhales food, drink or gastric juices into the lung, it is known as aspiration. The material is foreign to the lung and aspiration can lead to aspiration pneumonia and long hospital stays.
As we get older, we are more susceptible to choking for a number of reasons.
These include difficulty swallowing as a result of a stroke, Parkinson’s disease or other medical conditions. People with schizophrenia are 30 times more likely to die of choking than the general population.
Other risk factors include poor fitting dentures, a dry mouth from medication and unsuitable food. We can choke because we laugh or talk while eating. This can happen at any age.
Ideally, you’ll cough and expel the food from your throat before it reaches your lungs.
As we age we produce less moisture in our mouths and throat to help us swallow. Our muscle tone and strength decreases too. Swallowing slows down.
Eating hard, dry foods such as biscuits and crispbreads, becomes more difficult.
According to a Monash University study, foods that present a choking hazard include lollies, meat, chicken, fish, bones, nuts, raw carrot and raw apple.
Fruit pips and stones are also a problem.
Here are a few ideas for reducing the choking risks:
- Cut food into smaller pieces, chew food slowly and take sips of water between mouthfuls.
- Swap raw carrots for grated carrot. Serve all meats with a sauce or dollop of yoghurt.
- Instead of whole apples, grate an apple and dust it with cinnamon and sugar for a delicious treat.
- Eat meals with loved ones so you can watch them and help them pace their meals.
- It’s better to eat at a table than leaning over a tray in your lap. This keeps the back and throat upright.
When we choke our bodies react instinctively and we cough. This can sometimes dislodge the particles of food.
If coughing does not dislodge the food, you only have a few minutes before brain damage occurs. Call 000 and initiate first aid.
Some signs that someone is choking include the inability to talk, difficulty breathing, noisy breathing and repeated coughing. The person may also have a flushed face or blue lips.
This article is general advice. If you are with someone who is choking, call 000 and start first aid. Be prepared. Print out the St John’s First Aid guidelines for choking and keep them handy.
Kendall Morton is the Director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email email@example.com