There’s nothing better than a tall, cold drink on a hot summer day, but for a senior with dysphagia, this simple pleasure can be downright dangerous. Dysphagia – or trouble with swallowing – affects millions of older adults, due to weakened mouth and/or throat muscles. Alzheimer’s, MS, cancer, and stroke are typical culprits as well. Luckily, there are some easy tips for managing dysphagia at home.
Symptoms of dysphagia include:
- Coughing, gagging or choking when eating, drinking, or taking prescribed medication
- A gurgling sound in the senior’s voice after drinking/eating
Additionally, in the event that you suspect dysphagia in an older member of the family, ask her or him the next questions and consult with the physician immediately for further guidance:
- Are you coughing or choking when trying to eat or drink?
- Are you having frequent issues 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?
- Are you losing weight?
If you’re caring for a senior with dysphagia, keep these tips in mind:
- Pay attention to posture. Ensure that the senior is sitting fully upright, at a 90-degree angle, before trying to drink or eat.
- Bypass the straw. Straws speed up the rate at which the liquid enters 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, avocado, soft cheese, and creamy nut butters. Find some simple, dysphagia-friendly recipes here.
- Consider medication administration. Washing down pills with thickened liquid could be challenging. Seek the advice of the prescribing doctor and/or pharmacist to see if meds can be crushed and combined 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 hard to eat or drink for longer than 15 minutes at any given time. Try to plan meals around times when a senior loved one is least tired, and have thickened drinks available during the day to ensure hydration.
Jewish Family Home Care caregivers can help with managing dysphagia at home by planning and preparing healthy meals and thickened drinks for a loved one with dysphagia. We’ll even pick up all the ingredients, too! Reach out to us online or over the phone at 213-383-2273 to learn more about the areas we serve.