Feeding / Swallowing



  • Feeding and swallowing difficulties are called dysphagia (dis FAY juh).
  • Older adults are at risk when they have multiple medical conditions or take multiple medications with side effects causing swallowing problems.
  • Swallowing problems can lead to poor health.
What You Should Know

digestive systemCauses of Swallowing Problems

Feeding and swallowing difficulties may be caused by:

  • Disease or injury to the brain or nervous system
  • Some examples include: stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  • Structural changes to the face, mouth, or neck
  • These may be the result of surgery or cancer.

Risks from Swallowing Problems

  • Aspiration – food or fluid enters the lungs
    • When the person shows no outward signs (e.g. cough or throat clear) it is called silent aspiration.
  • Choking – a blockage of the airway
  • Poor nutrition and hydration
  • Chest infections, development of chronic lung conditions

Signs and Symptoms

  • Choking and coughing when eating or drinking or immediately after a meal
  • Food left in the mouth after swallowing
  • Trouble chewing
  • Effortful or painful swallowing
  • Food or fluid spilling from the mouth or nose
  • Feeling as though food is stuck in the throat
  • Regurgitation or vomiting
  • Congested chest, lots of phlegm, recurring chest infections
  • Unintentional or unexplained weight loss
  • Poor food and fluid intake
  • Long meals/feeding times
  • Lack of enjoyment in eating

When to Seek Medical Advice

  • Talk to your doctor when you
    • have swallowing difficulty
    • are concerned about signs and symptoms
    • suspect or observe related problems such as compromised nutrition or hydration, or recurrent or chronic chest congestion or infections
    • want a swallowing assessment.
  • A doctor’s order is required for a swallowing assessment.
  • Your doctor will complete a referral form which is sent to a speech – language pathologist or swallowing program.

Tips for Safe Swallowingwomen eating

  • Your speech – language pathologist will provide you with recommendations based on your swallowing test results.
    • A modified diet may be necessary. Solid textures and fluid consistencies may be altered.
    • Exercises and / or swallowing strategies and maneuvers may help.
  • Some general strategies while waiting for an assessment:
    • Take or present food or drink when awake and alert
    • Wear dentures and other aids, e.g. hearing aids and glasses
    • Sit as upright as possible
    • Place food within reach and sight
    • Allow enough time to complete a meal
    • Complete one bite or sip or swallow before taking the next
    • Provide supervision and cueing when helpful
    • If feeding another person, sit at eye level and present food or fluid at midline
    • Monitor for signs and symptoms of difficulty
    • Remain sitting for 30 minutes following the meal
    • Maintain regular oral care
Last modified: Wednesday, April 27, 2022, 9:19 AM