As we age, the muscles in the mouth and throat sometimes lose strength, leading to a problem with swallowing when eating or drinking. Swallowing requires the coordination of many nerves and muscles in the mouth and throat that work together to push food and liquid down the esophagus and ensure that the airway is closed when swallowing. However, difficulty arises when these muscles are not working as well as they once did, causing food to get stuck or go down the airway. When this happens, a condition called dysphagia occurs.
Many medical conditions can cause dysphagia. If patients have a stroke, or any neurological condition that creates dysfunctional muscles such as Parkinson’s, MS, or even some severe forms of Alzheimer’s, it can create an issue for swallowing in patients. Unfortunately, losing the ability to properly swallow can lead to other serious conditions such as aspiration pneumonia, dehydration, or malnutrition, to name a few.
If you suspect that your loved one may be suffering from this condition, it’s important to have your doctor recommend a speech pathologist who can properly diagnose dysphagia and provide therapy to improve muscle movement and strength. In the meantime, it’s important to help your loved one get the right nutrition while avoiding foods that are difficult to swallow.
8 Tips for Helping Your Loved One With Dysphagia
- Consistency is key in swallowing. If your loved one needs a thicker consistency to swallow liquids, look into thickeners such as Thick-It, which use modified cornstarch to thicken liquids to any consistency. If your loved one doesn’t like the taste, add lemon juice to make it more like lemonade.
- If drinking is a problem in general, try using a child’s sippy cup or a straw with liquids.
- Keep distractions at a minimum during mealtime and make sure you and your loved one are focused on eating and not talking as they try to swallow.
- Make sure your loved one is sitting upright while eating and that they stay upright for at least 30 minutes following the meal.
- Cut food into small pieces or use a small spoon to help feed your loved one. The smaller the portions going into their mouth, the better.
- Ask your loved one to clear his/her throat in between bites.
- Alternate liquids and solids.
- Avoid crunchy foods like nuts or pretzels, sticky foods like peanut butter or marmalade, and mixed-consistency foods like milk and cereal or chicken noodle soup.
Taking care of a loved one with a condition like dysphagia can be difficult on any family caregiver. At 24/7 Nursing Care, we have resources available to provide nursing or companion care for clients in their own homes. Contact us to learn more about our caregiving services.
Publishing, H. H. (n.d.). Choking alert: Strategies for safe swallowing. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/choking-alert-strategies-for-safe-swallowing
Tips to Help Your Loved One with Swallowing Problems. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2017, from http://www.strokesmart.org/article?id=136
10 Quick and Easy Dysphagia Diet Recipes (for Swallowing Problems): 5 Ingredients or Less. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2017, from http://dailycaring.com/10-quick-and-easy-dysphagia-diet-recipes-for-swallowing-problems-5-ingredients-or-less/