Posted on 2 Comments

Swallowing Problems in Elderly

swallowing problems in elderly

Info about swallowing problems in elderly.

I recently read an article about a man who had a stroke, and afterwards suffered from problems swallowing. He had a tube called a “peg” put in his stomach so he could have an intake of liquid nutrition, instead of swallowing by mouth. He lost weight.  He wanted to eat a normal diet in the normal way again. However, his weak and awkward swallowing made this seem impossible. He really missed his chicken-fried steak.


Many caregivers combat swallowing problems in elderly.  It is a common problem among those over 60 years of age.  Both of our elderly mothers had problems with swallowing.  One had dry mouth and swallowing problems after receiving chemotherapy for cancer. The other had swallowing problems as a side-effect of medications, Parkinson’s, and overall muscle weakness due to age.

Difficulty in swallowing is not just inconvenient. It can impact the person by affecting their diet, even their willingness to eat, and thus cause weight loss. It can impact their intake of fluids, possibly causing dehydration, blood pressure problems, and urinary tract problems. Swallowing difficulties can cause one to choke and aspirate food particles or liquids into the lungs.  This is called aspiration pneumonia, and it is a serious condition which can be fatal.

If you or your loved one has difficulty with chewing and swallowing, and often coughs or chokes while eating or drinking, then don’t just ignore those signs.  It could be dysphagia, the medical term for difficulty in swallowing. You or your loved one should be seen by a doctor and be referred to a specialist for therapy which helps relieve and solve the problem.  That specialist is usually a Speech-Language Pathologist or an Occupational Therapist.

I recently read about the effectiveness of a painless, non-invasive treatment called VitalStim Therapy System. This therapy uses small electrical currents to stimulate the muscles responsible for swallowing. The electrodes cause the muscles to contract and help to strengthen the muscles to work correctly. The therapist will also direct the patient do some swallowing exercises to retrain the patient to effectively swallow. The therapy is painless.

You can read more about swallowing problems in elderly, and find a therapist who is trained to use the VitalStim Therapy System at their website. You can read more about this therapy at the website, and check with your doctor if you believe that you have symptoms of swallowing difficulty.

Results have been good for patients who have been able to recover their swallowing abilities after stroke, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, and even bouts of aspiration pneumonia.  Some patients have been able to begin to eat a normal diet, instead of only soft food or thickened liquids. Others have also been able to speak more audibly and converse at normal voice volumes after therapy. They have been able to stop choking up secretions, and chew, swallow and breathe more comfortably.  The impact on patients’ lives has been significant according to many patients’ and therapists’ testimonies.

Luckily, the man I read about in the article recovered his swallowing abilities through VitalStim Therapy.  Now, he has had the peg removed, and can chew and swallow normally again.  His diet has improved. His weight has improved and his overall health and attitude has improved. His goal in therapy was to be able to eat a chicken-fried steak again. And he accomplished his goal after VitalStim Therapy!  Chicken-fried steak is truly motivating and worth working for!

Your thoughts are welcome.  Please share with us.



2 thoughts on “Swallowing Problems in Elderly

  1. Hello Janice, Thank you for reading my blog. I hope that your mother is able to improve in swallowing soon with VitalStim therapy.

    I recall that the gentleman was able to improve immediately in eating and swallowing effectively with soft foods, then after about 10 sessions, he was able to handle soups and medium foods, and then after about 15 – 20 sessions was able to bite down and enjoy that chicken fried steak. This took about 4 weeks. That is consistent with the research results I have read concerning mild stroke patients.

    It depends a lot on the cause and severity of the swallowing problem, ( stroke, tumor, Parkinson’s, etc.) and the overall health of the patient. Starting VitalStim soon and keeping the therapy going with exercises recommended by the speech pathologist is also important. When a patient has eaten poorly and has become underweight, and has had aspiration incidents, then progress is hindered and the patient is slower in recovering normal swallowing because of their overall poor health.

    Encourage your mom to work with the VitalStim sessions and do exercises if they are prescribed too. My mom was able to improve some even with just exercises, though her Parkinson’s was advancing. I wish that VitalStim had been invented and available when she needed help with swallowing. Thank you for your interest and comment. Best of caregiving to you! Georgia at

  2. This sounds encouraging and my mom just started the Vitalstim after suffering a stroke. How long did it take him to be able to eat and drink again?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *