As one ages, a series of changes takes place in each organ, which are not a caused by diseases or accidents. Some examples of these are:

  • Eye changes, such as long-sightedness, also called presbyopia.
  • Hearing loss, called presbycusis.

As with sight or hearing, the swallowing mechanism is also altered over the years. The medical term used to define aging-related swallowing disorders is presbyphagia.


What is presbyphagia?

Presbyphagia is usually due to the characteristic changes produced in the structures and organs involved in the process of swallowing food. Some of these changes includes:

  • Chewing problems due to loss of teeth or poor fitting dentures, which reduces the effectiveness of swallowing since food cannot be completely crushed to form a compact or homogeneous food bolus. 
  • Decreased saliva production, making it difficult to lubricate food and aid bolus formation.
  • Loss of strength and mobility in the tongue when forming the bolus and/ or pushing the bolus to the back of the mouth.
  • Slow closure of the epiglottis, which is located in the throat and is in charge of preventing the ingested food from passing into the lung.
  • Decreased strength of the throat muscles responsible for driving the bolus forward. This may explain why older people sometimes require multiple swallows to move the bolus.

Therefore, due to presbyphagia or age-related dysphagia, older people are more frequently faced with swallowing events that can cause serious complications, such as repeated pneumonia, weight loss, dehydration, fear of certain foods.

Consult a health professional for any signs that may suggest the presence of a swallowing problem.

Recommended bibliography:
  • Humbert A et al. Dysphagia in the Elderly. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am 2008; 19 (4): 853 – x. doi: 10.1016 / j.pmr.2008.06.002.
  • Clavé P et al. Oropharyngeal dysphagia in the elderly. Med Clin 2005; 124: 742-8 - DOI: 10.1157 / 13075447
  • Dejaeger et al. Presbyphagia. In "Seminars in Dysphagia". Chap. 3. Editors Renee Speyer, Hans Bogaardt. ISBN 978-953-51-2151-0, InTech, 2015