On a hot summer day, there is nothing more satisfying than a tall, cold drink; however, for a person with dysphagia, this simple pleasure can be dangerous. Dysphagia – or difficulty with swallowing – impacts millions of seniors, because of weakened mouth and/or throat muscles. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, MS, and stroke are typical root causes as well.
Indications of dysphagia include:
- Coughing, choking, or gagging when eating, drinking, or taking prescribed medication
- A gurgling sound in the senior’s voice after drinking/eating
Additionally, if you suspect dysphagia in a senior family member, ask him or her the next questions – and check with the medical practitioner immediately for additional guidance:
- Are you choking or coughing when trying to eat or drink?
- Are you experiencing regular problems with food “going down the wrong pipe?”
- Is food getting caught in your throat?
- Is it taking you longer to eat food than it used to?
- Have you been losing weight?
If you are caring for a loved one with dysphagia, keep the following tips in mind:
- Pay attention to posture. Ensure that the older adult is sitting fully upright, at a 90-degree angle, before attempting to eat or drink.
- Avoid the straw. Straws increase the rate at which the liquid goes into the mouth, which can cause aspiration or choking.
- Thicken liquids. Most pharmacies sell thickening powders or gels that should be added to all fluids for anyone with dysphagia. However, abstain from serving jello and ice cream, which change from their thickened form to a liquid in the mouth.
- Keep nutrition in mind. Good choices for dysphagia-friendly foods include yogurt, pureed fruits, pureed veggies, pureed lentils, and pureed beans, soft cheese, avocado, and creamy nut butters. Find some easy dysphagia-friendly recipes.
- Think through prescription drug administration. Washing down pills with thickened liquid can be difficult. Consult with the prescribing doctor and/or pharmacist to see if prescription drugs can be crushed and mixed with pudding or applesauce to help them go down easier.
- Timing is everything. The fatigue that accompanies a chronic health condition that causes dysphagia can make it difficult to eat or drink for longer than a quarter-hour at any given time. Try to plan meals around instances when the senior is least tired, and have thickened drinks available during the day to ensure hydration.
Harmony Home Health & Hospice’s experts in elderly home care in Salt Lake City and the surrounding areas offer speech therapy services that can help those with dysphagia learn swallowing techniques that will help them maintain proper nutrition and hydration while avoiding serious complications. Reach out to us at 1-877-I-NEED-CARE to learn more today.