Bringing Awareness to Aphasia and Dysphagia

Bringing Awareness to Aphasia and Dysphagia: Understanding
Swallowing and Language Challenges in the Aging Population

Aphasia and dysphagia are two significant health conditions that can affect individuals of any age. However, they often present unique
challenges among the aging population. We recently had the opportunity to bring awareness to this topic with expert Ainsley Martin, M.S., CCC-SLP, owner of State of Mind Speech and Swallowing. We thank her and Bridge St. Channel 9 for the opportunity to shed light on the impact of aphasia and dysphagia on older adults and the importance of seeking professional help for diagnosis and treatment.

Dysphagia: Swallowing Challenges in the Elderly

Dysphagia refers to difficulty swallowing, and it is a condition that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. While it can affect individuals of all ages, the elderly are particularly vulnerable to developing swallowing disorders. Studies estimate that approximately 10-33% of elderly people living in the community experience dysphagia, with higher rates observed in nursing home residents.

There are several reasons why the elderly are more susceptible to dysphagia. Firstly, age-related health issues increase the likelihood of developing dysphagia, as it often occurs within the context of other disease processes. Conditions such as stroke, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and changes in cognitive function can contribute to swallowing difficulties.
Additionally, the consumption of numerous medications can also affect the swallowing process.

One of the concerning correlations associated with dysphagia in the elderly is its link to frailty and negative consequences such as pneumonia. Frail individuals are at a higher risk of developing dysphagia, and the associated complications, including aspiration pneumonia, can have severe consequences, including fatality.

Recognizing the signs of dysphagia is crucial for early intervention. Common indicators include coughing or a wet voice while eating and drinking, weight loss, recurrent pneumonia, and avoidance of certain foods or liquids. If you suspect swallowing issues in yourself or a loved one, seeking assessment from a qualified speech-language pathologist is recommended. A thorough evaluation, including a swallowing assessment such as a Flexible Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES) exam, can identify the underlying causes of swallowing difficulties and guide the development of an appropriate treatment plan.

Aphasia: Language Challenges in the Elderly

Aphasia is a communication disorder that affects various aspects of language, including verbal or written expression and verbal or reading comprehension. Similar to dysphagia, aphasia can develop at any age, but it is often associated with health conditions that affect swallowing.

Among older adults, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are significant contributors to the development of aphasia. The impairment in language skills can lead to social isolation, a detrimental consequence for the elderly. Socialization plays a crucial role in maintaining cognitive function and overall quality of life. As older adults isolate themselves more due to communication difficulties, they become even more susceptible to cognitive decline and further communication challenges.

It is essential to highlight that treatment by a qualified speech-language pathologist can significantly improve communication abilities and help older adults maintain life participation. Through therapy and rehabilitation, individuals with aphasia can learn alternative communication strategies and regain confidence in their ability to express themselves and engage in meaningful interactions.

Support is Available: Contact a Professional

Aphasia and dysphagia are conditions that can significantly impact the lives of individuals, particularly the elderly. Recognizing the signs and symptoms and seeking professional help from speech-language pathologists are essential steps toward diagnosis and treatment. By raising awareness about aphasia and dysphagia, we can ensure that older adults receive the support they need to overcome these challenges, improve their quality of
life, and maintain their cognitive and physical well-being. If you’re in central New York you can learn more about State of Mind Speech and Swallowing here and aging life care management by Aging Advocates CNY here or search to find an Aging Life Care Professional® near you.

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