top of page
A woman holding her chest with her hand at her mouth trying to cough from aspirating or choking.


Aspiration occurs when foreign substances, such as food or liquids, inadvertently enter the airways and lungs, posing serious health risks, particularly for the elderly population. Choking occurs when the airway is blocked by food, drink, or foreign objects. In this blog, we will explore the dangers of aspiration and choking among elderly residents in nursing homes, shedding light on the causes, consequences, and preventive measures.


General Causes of Aspiration


  • Reduced swallowing reflexes: Aging can lead to a decline in the muscles responsible for swallowing, making elderly individuals more susceptible to aspiration.

  • Cognitive impairments: Conditions like dementia or Alzheimer's disease may affect an individual's ability to recognize and respond appropriately to swallowing difficulties. These diseases also impair an individual’s ability to express discomfort or other symptoms related to aspiration, delaying diagnosis and treatment.

  • MedicationsSome medications can cause drowsiness or impair coordination, increasing the risk of aspiration.


Consequences of Aspiration


  • Pneumonia: Aspirated foreign material can cause lung infections, leading to pneumonia (sometimes referred to as "Aspiration Pneumonia"), a serious and potentially life-threatening condition, especially in the elderly.

  • Chronic respiratory issues: Recurrent aspiration can contribute to chronic respiratory problems, exacerbating existing conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).


Where Nursing Homes/Assisted Living Facilities Fall Short


  • Care Plans: Nursing homes must develop (and implement!) personalized care plans for residents, considering their unique health conditions, cognitive abilities, and dietary needs. This simple step is often overlooked or, if done, ignored by staff.

  • Assessments: Regular assessments of swallowing abilities can help identify and address potential issues promptly.

  • Staff Training: Staff members, including caregivers and healthcare professionals, must be trained to recognize signs and symptoms of aspiration and the implementation of preventative measures.

  • Inadequate Staffing/Supervision: Facilities must maintain adequate staffing levels to ensure they can meet the needs of the residents. This means that facilities must be able to ensure that residents who need attention and assistance during meals are provided such attention and assistance. Adequate staffing also ensures compliance with dietary restrictions.

  • Appropriate Diets: Tailored diets, such as texture-modified or thickened liquids (that allow better control of the liquid in a resident's mouth and slow down the flow rate), can reduce the risk of aspiration for residents with swallowing difficulties.


Choking differs from aspiration in that choking occurs when there is an obstruction in the airway, preventing air from flowing into or out of the lungs. This obstruction can be caused by a solid object, such as food or a foreign body, getting lodged in the throat or windpipe. Choking is a sudden emergency that requires immediate intervention to clear the blocked airway. Choking can lead to aspiration if the object is not fully dislodged and expelled from the mouth. Choking is a critical situation that, if not addressed promptly, can lead to serious consequences, including loss of consciousness and death.


If your loved one suffered from aspiration or choking while in a nursing home, contact the experienced attorneys at FIDJ, before it’s too late.

*The information contained herein is not, and must not be construed as medical advice.

iStock-1453186644 (smaller size dload).jpg

We Hold Nursing Homes, Assisted Living Facilities, Group Homes, and Adult Day Care Centers Accountable.

Five Steps if You Suspect Abuse or Neglect

Check out our latest blogs...

bottom of page