One thing I try to teach medical students and residents is how to answer the following question:

“When can a patient can be discharged from the hospital?”

Ideally, a patient should be able to do anything upon leaving that they could do upon entering:

Can the patient walk?

Can he poop?

Can he eat?

This last one may seem obvious, but it’s more complicated then you might think.

A recent piece in the NY Times “New Old Age” Blog addressed this issue for geriatric patients. As the article explains, swallowing is a complicated process, one which most of us take for granted because we learn to do it in early infancy and it stays with us.

Stays with us, that is, until we have a stroke or other disabling condition.

Turns out a lot of things can interfere with our ability to eat. Let’s break it down into three big categories:

Continue reading