Reductions in muscle mass and strength are well known complications of advancing age. All muscles of the body are affected, including those critical to chewing and swallowing. A diagnosis of frailty and its features of weakness and unintentional weight loss are particularly relevant to the aging swallowing system. Age related changes to eating and swallowing function means that there is a natural tendency for elders to self-select ‘soft’ foods due to loss of dentition and fatigue on chewing. However, it is not well known that tooth loss and poor dental status is associated with increased choking risk, especially as people age. In fact, people over 65 years of age have seven times higher risk for choking on food than children aged 1–4 years of age. Texture modified foods are provided clinically to reduce choking risk and manage dysphagia. Although certain food textures offer greater swallowing safety, they significantly restrict food choice. This commentary paper will highlight age-related changes to the eating and swallowing system, noting especially those that are relevant for frail elders. Swallowing impairments also affect the ability to manage liquids, and aspiration risk in healthy and frail elders is also discussed. Modified food textures that are most often recommended by clinicians to maintain sufficient oral intake and reduce choking risk will be described, while also highlighting the nutritional challenges associated with these foods and offering some solutions. The ethical challenges associated with balancing the autonomy of choice of food textures with swallowing safety will be addressed.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited