If you’re a caregiver for a family member, you’re doing an important and multi-faceted job. You probably feel like a nurse, chauffeur and chef all rolled into one. Research shows that you likely fell into the role without much – or any – preparation. In fact, around 80% of family caregivers in America say they’d like more information or help. While your loved one’s health professionals will brief you on their condition, it’s often up to you to fill in between the lines. This includes looking out for new symptoms of their condition and any side-effects of their medications.
One problem that’s common among older adults, especially those with underlying health problems, is Dry Mouth, or Xerostomia. Dry Mouth affects up to 1 in 5 adults in the US. Contrary to what you might think, a dry mouth isn’t always just thirst. It’s an uncomfortable condition that happens if the body doesn’t produce enough saliva. The elderly are more susceptible to Dry Mouth, as are people with certain health conditions.
What’s causing your loved one’s Dry Mouth?
You may have noticed your family member exhibiting one or more of the common symptoms of Dry mouth. These include frequent thirst, dry tongue, bad breath and difficulties speaking or swallowing. Knowing more about what’s causing it will help you find ways of controlling it and easing their discomfort.
Medication is one of the main causes of Dry Mouth, in fact hundreds of medications have been associated with the condition. You can check here for the most commonly noted, but it’s not an exhaustive list. The reasons for the link between medication and Dry Mouth vary, depending on the drug in question. Some affect the salivary glands, suppressing saliva production. Others have a drying effect on the body, including the mouth. And some, like inhalers, work topically – depositing medication directly on oral tissues where it can act as an irritant.
In addition, we know that taking multiple medications can increase the chances of experiencing a dry mouth by up to 40%. This could be as a result of either interactions or combined effects of the medication. If you’re concerned that your family member’s medications may be causing Dry Mouth, have a word with their doctor to see if there’s an alternative available or if the dosage or delivery method can be adjusted.
Cancer patients could be vulnerable to Dry Mouth. Not only are they usually taking several medications, but some cancer treatments can cause a dry mouth. Chemotherapy drugs can cause saliva to thicken and dry the mouth. If a patient is undergoing radiation therapy to the head or neck, their salivary glands may be affected.
Another common cause of Dry Mouth is diabetes. Approximately 40% of diabetic patients complain of Dry Mouth. This is partly because diabetes suppresses salivary flow rates, resulting in less saliva in the mouth. Another factor is the fluctuation in blood sugar levels among diabetics. Making sure your family member’s diabetes is well controlled may help reduce their chances of developing Dry Mouth.
If you think your family member may be suffering from Dry Mouth, or at risk of it, be sure to discuss it with their doctor. There may be adjustments they can make to prescriptions or other remedies they can suggest. You might also explore the over-the-counter oral moisturizing products available to help ease your loved one’s discomfort.