About one-fifth of elderly people in Taiwan choke at least once a week when eating or drinking, with one in 10 experiencing swallowing difficulties, the Health Promotion Administration (HPA) said yesterday, adding that it has designed an exercise to help improve people’s swallowing function.
A 65-year-old retired teacher, surnamed Ching (景), said that in the past two years he often choked when eating and drinking.
Once, while eating noodles, he choked and blew a noodle from his nose after coughing.
Organs and their functions weaken as the body ages or if it is diseased, the agency said.
Swallowing difficulties can occur after a stroke or with Parkinson’s disease, which can cause frequent choking or aspirated pneumonia, it said.
Among people aged 65 and above, 21.8 percent choke when swallowing every week and 12.8 percent have been diagnosed with swallowing difficulties, it said.
Some older people with sarcopenia (gradual loss of muscle mass) are more likely to have difficulty swallowing because the throat consists of several muscles and food can enter the respiratory tract when those muscles become weak, Taiwan Speech Language Pathologist Union deputy secretary-general Wang Hsueh-pei (王雪珮) said.
Older people with dementia or systemic degeneration might be unaware that food is caught in their air passage and will not try to cough it out, causing aspirated pneumonia, union president Joyce Su (蘇心怡) said.
Some older people have weakened sensory and gastrointestinal digestive functions, which can cause not only swallowing difficulties, but also malnutrition, HPA Director Wang Ying-wei (王英偉) said, adding that people should consult a language therapist or nutritionist to improve such conditions.
The union has designed a 10-minute exercise to help older people improve the muscles used for chewing and swallowing, which could help prevent degeneration, Su said.
The exercise has been adopted by the Ministry of Health and Welfare for promotion in communities for preventing and delaying disabilities.
The agency’s video demonstrating the swallowing exercise can be found at goo.gl/4fzfZf.
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