Dementia: Feeding and Swallowing Issues

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve discussed some of the language issues that accompany advancing dementia and provided strategies for maintaining communication despite decreasing language skills. Today, we’ll talk about a different facet of dementia: swallowing difficulties.
Eating is such a basic, integral part of our day-to-day lives that we almost never give any thought to how complicated the process actually is. As a person experiences advancing dementia, any number of steps in the feeding process can become impaired, from recognizing hunger, to taking a bite of food, to swallowing.

Typically, the earliest eating difficulty a person may experience is getting the food from the plate into their mouth. Initially, they may have difficulty using utensils, beginning with more difficult tasks (such as cutting meat) and advancing to more basic tasks (such as scooping up a spoonful of food and transferring it to the mouth). Eventually, it may become necessary for the person to be fed by a caregiver. Feeding a person with dementia can present a range of difficulties. Often, the individual may not open their mouth to receive the food. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are not hungry or do not want to eat. Rather, they may not recognize what is required of them or recognize the task at hand.

Once the person with dementia has the food in their mouth, they may have difficulty chewing or swallowing due to incoordination of the musculature. In many cases, the person will chew incessantly, forgetting not recognizing that swallowing the food is the next step. In other cases, the person will “pocket” the food in the cheeks rather than chewing. Often, a speech-language pathologist may recommend a change in texture in order to make chewing and swallowing easier. In late-stage dementia, a feeding tube may become necessary for the individual to obtain sufficient nutrition.
Read on in next week’s blog when we’ll discuss some of the strategies and techniques that can be used to make feeding and swallowing easier for a person with dementia.

If someone in your life has dementia and you are having difficulty with speech or communication, you may benefit from the services of a professional speech-language pathologist. A speech therapist can help your loved one maintain communication skills for as long as possible, and can help you to develop strategies to enhance communication. If you or someone you love has a communication disorder, contact Speech Associates of New York and allow our professionally trained and certified speech-language pathologists help you communicate to the best of your ability. Our team provides in-home evaluations and therapy, and is trained in the assessment and treatment of a range of pediatric and adult speech, language and communication disorders. Call us today at (212)308-7725 and find out how we can help you communicate your best!

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3 Responses to Dementia: Feeding and Swallowing Issues

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