Chapter 3: Symptoms and health concerns

Difficulty swallowing – What is it and what may cause it

We don’t often think much about swallowing until we have trouble doing it. Swallowing involves 40 muscles working together with parts of our brain. Trouble swallowing is common in someone who is nearing death. As a person’s condition weakens, the muscles involved in swallowing are affected. At some point, they won’t have energy to be awake or swallow safely. This change usually signals the final days or hours of life.

Someone with a degenerative brain disease often develops trouble swallowing as their disease progresses. Their disease affects their ability to swallow in different ways, depending on which parts of the brain are affected and how quickly the disease progresses. For more information on this, see the article, Swallowing problems in degenerative brain diseases.

The following section discusses difficulty swallowing as someone nears the end of their life.

Keeping track

Be sure to track any difficulty with swallowing in the tracking journal. This will help to relay information to the healthcare provider.

Click here to see the questions a healthcare provider may ask to understand more. You can use these to guide for the tracking journal.