Eating and Aging: First hand observation - my Grandmother
As a graduate student, I remember learning about presbyphagia, or changes in swallowing ability that is associated with normal aging. Although these changes are not considered to be disorders, they may present distinctive patterns that effect both types of food and the quantity an older person consumes. As we age, we may experience a loss of taste and smell (nothing tastes like it used to), show reduced muscle strength, suffer from xerostomia (dry mouth), reduced esophageal peristalsis or opening of the upper esophageal sphincter, and vocal cords may be slightly bowed or have atrophy. Dentition may be limited or poor which may impact the oral phase of swallowing, as we chew food and our tongue mixes it with saliva. Consequently, it is not unusual for older adults to express some degree of dissatisfaction with meal time and eating.
My grandmother lived independently until she was 100 years young. As she aged, I remember observing subtle changes in her eating habits. It was a slow progression, however, I soon started to notice she would avoid tough breads and certain meats as they were too difficult to chew. I think it was a combination of deteriorating dentition and dry mouth that resulted in increasing difficulty consuming these foods. She would eat smaller amounts more frequently throughout the day and she savored sweets when she allowed herself to have them.
One of the last conversations I had with my grandmother was about working with my family to start a new company - Nutraphagia. My grandmother was a nurse aide, who for many years, had cared for nursing home residents with mild to severe swallowing issues. Given this background, she was familiar with the EAT snack concept and those that it could help. She was even one of the first taste testers for the initial prototypes. She loved the taste of all the flavors and the ease of swallowing.
I realized while watching my grandmother that as we age the pleasures in life may be less frequent but the rewards can be so much sweeter.