Eating and Swallowing Clinic
is always important, but even more so as we grow older.
Proper nutrition raises energy levels, boosts the immune
system and protects the body against illness.
Maintaining good nutrition, however, is very complex -
eating a healthy meal involves shopping for and
preparing food; having an appetite and a desire to eat;
and having adequate chewing and swallowing abilities.
Troubles with any of these can cause poor eating, which
in turn can cause undernourishment. Unfortunately,
problems with these areas are common in the elderly,
placing them at risk for malnutrition.
Geriatric Center is now offering an
Eating and Swallowing Clinic designed
specifically to help elders who are experiencing
difficulty with any or all aspects of preparing and
eating meals. The goal of the clinic is to help seniors
maintain their nutritional status, prevent complications
such as aspiration, encourage independence with eating
and ensure that meals are an enjoyable experience. To
accomplish this, the team will look at specific aspects
of eating and swallowing including: the environment; use
of feeding utensils; vision impairments; presence of
swallowing deficits and resulting need for swallowing
strategies and change in diet consistency; and the
impact of medication on swallowing and appetite.
What causes eating and swallowing difficulties?
A number of things
occur during the normal aging process that impact eating
and swallowing that can make it challenging to keep up
with nutritional requirements: There is a decline in the
sense of smell that directly affects the ability to
taste and saliva production decreases, causing dry
mouth. Metabolism and body composition also change,
resulting in loss of bone and muscle and reduced
appetite. Poor dentition or ill fitting dentures can
make chewing meats and raw vegetables difficult, and
failing eyesight can make meals appear less appetizing.
changes, getting older also brings about shifts in
social and financial status that can be harmful to
nutritional health. Eating is a social activity and many
older individuals dislike eating alone, or consider it a
chore to cook for one. Similarly, the loss of a spouse
or close friend can result in loneliness and isolation,
which can lead to depression and loss of appetite.
Money worries may also play a role, as many retirees on
fixed budgets may be forced to make cut-backs in their food allowance.
Finally, there are a
number of disease processes common in the elderly that
impair eating and swallowing function, making it
difficult to eat. Strokes, Parkinson's disease, multiple
sclerosis, gastroesophageal reflux, and Alzheimer's
disease are examples of these. Weakness and mobility
issues can make it difficult to get to a grocery store,
shop and put away groceries. And, there are a number of
medications commonly taken by the elderly that reduce appetite, or change swallow function.
What can be done to help with eating and swallowing problems?
Despite these hurdles,
there are things that can be done to assist with eating
and swallowing and encourage older individuals to attend to nutrition:
Stay physically active
enjoyable - prepare foods appealing in color, smell and texture
enjoyable - join a dining group, family or neighbors for meals
Get help with
shopping - ask someone to shop for you or use delivery services
problems with swallowing to your doctor: you may
benefit from an evaluation by a Speech/Language Pathologist
Report any unintentional weight loss to your doctor
Ask your doctor if
medications could be playing a role in reduced appetite and/or swallowing problems
The Eating and
Swallowing Clinic is staffed by a Geriatrician, an
Occupational Therapist and a Speech-Language Pathologist
and is held on Fridays at the Geriatric Center located
at 66 Bramhall Street in Portland. For an appointment or
for more information, please contact us at 662-2847.
pictures of our Eating and Swallowing Clinic