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Dysphagia: Swallowing difficulties as you age

by | May 10, 2024 | Caregivers Support, Caregiving, Community, Resources

What is Dysphagia? Dysphagia refers to a swallowing disorder characterised by problems in moving food, liquid or saliva from the mouth to the stomach. This condition has the ability to affect day to day life – especially one’s eating and drinking habits. This is a growing health concern in our ageing population and can significantly affect one’s quality of life

Here, we break down what this condition is caused by, what is it like living with this condition and lastly, how caregivers can come in and provide support.

What is Dysphagia caused by?

According to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, common causes of oropharyngeal dysphagia include:

  1. Stroke
  2. Dementia
  3. Parkinson’s disease and parkinsonism syndromes
  4. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  5. Bell’s palsy 
  6. Bulbar and pseudobulbar palsies
  7. Neck malignancies
  8. Neurotoxins (e.g. snake venom)
  9. Negative side effects of medications like antipsychotic drugs
  10. Complications from surgical removal of a structure, chemotherapy and radiotherapy


Common Dysphagia symptoms

Here are signs to look out for that might indicate you or your loved one has Dysphagia

  1. Pain when swallowing or inability to swallow
  2. Sensation of having something stuck in the throat/chest
  3. Choking or coughing when swallowing
  4. Longer times required to chew or swallow
  5. Food or fluid “coming back up” through the throat, mouth or nose after swallowing
  6. Inability to eat certain types of food which are too hard
  7. Shortness of breath while eating or after meal times
  8. Gradual weight loss due to inability to ingest food properly


How can caregivers support loved ones with difficulties swallowing?

Educating oneself on the condition of loved ones first allows one to gain a better understanding of your loved one’s needs and know how to better support loved ones. With a myriad of resources online, it helps caregivers break down the condition, associated symptoms and how to cope with them. These make the caregiving journey an easier and more supportive one. 

For example, meal preparation for a loved one with dysphagia might look rather different – you would likely need to prepare texture-modified meals for your loved one that are safer to eat. “Texture-modified” is a term used to describe foods prepared in a different way than usual, such as pureeing, mincing, or selecting foods that are softer to chew.


Practise safe feeding and swallowing techniques: 
  1. As Dysphagia patients are more prone to choking, it is key to ensure that one is always seated upright while eating and drinking
  2. Dysphagia patients may also be unable to eat large meals thus, caregivers might need to assist in eating small frequent meals
  3. Adding sauces is a way to enhance the flavour of the food and increase moisture so that it becomes easier to swallow. An alternative is to always take in small amounts of fluids as you eat to make it easier to swallow


Practise patience and creating a safe meal environment

If a loved one senses judgement and impatience during mealtimes, this can trigger anxiety and in turn affect their eating habits adversely. Finding or creating spaces that are quiet, free of distractions, and offer privacy, is a great way to support your loved one during mealtimes.



Dysphagia is a common condition and can happen to almost anyone. If you or your loved ones are diagnosed with this condition, it is important to learn more about the condition so you can know what to expect. Meal time routines would look very different and one’s mood/energy levels could potentially fluctuate too. Dealing with these changes in a loved one’s life is certainly not easy and always remember that it is okay to reach out if you need help.

About Growing Needs

About Growing Needs

Growing Needs grew out of our own encounters with caring for our aging parents and reflecting on the Growing Needs that we ourselves would face as we advance in years. We hope to build a community that will learn, share and contribute towards caring for the growing needs of our loved ones.

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