May 24, 2021 by Dean Bellefeuille

Learn the signs of dysphagia and how to better manage this condition.

On a hot summer day, there is nothing more satisfying than a tall, cold drink, but for someone displaying signs of dysphagia, this simple pleasure can be dangerous. Dysphagia – or trouble with swallowing – affects millions of older adults, because of weakened mouth and/or throat muscles. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, MS and stroke are all causes as well.

Signs of dysphagia  include:

  • Drooling
  • Coughing, gagging or choking when eating, drinking, or taking prescribed medication
  • A gurgling sound in the older adult’s voice after drinking/eating

Additionally, if you suspect dysphagia in a senior member of the family, ask her or him the following questions – and consult with the doctor immediately for further guidance:

  • Have you been choking or coughing when attempting to eat or drink?
  • Are you experiencing frequent difficulties 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 are taking care of a senior with dysphagia, keep these tips  in mind:

  1. Make note of posture. Ensure that the senior is sitting fully upright, at a 90-degree angle, before attempting to eat or drink.
  2. Bypass the straw. Straws speed up the rate at which the liquid enters into the mouth, which can cause aspiration or choking.
  3. Thicken liquids. Most pharmacies sell thickening gels or powders that should be added to all fluids for those with dysphagia. However, abstain from serving ice cream and jello, which change from their thickened form to a liquid in the mouth.
  4. Keep nutritional needs in mind. Good choices for dysphagia-friendly foods include yogurt, pureed fruits, pureed veggies, pureed beans, and pureed lentils, soft cheese, avocado, and creamy nut butters. Find some simple, dysphagia-friendly recipes here.
  5. Consider medication administration. Washing down pills with thickened liquid may be difficult. Seek advice from the prescribing doctor and/or pharmacist to see if meds can be crushed and mixed with pudding or applesauce to help them go down easier.
  6. Timing is everything. The tiredness that accompanies a chronic health issue that creates dysphagia can make it hard to eat or drink for longer than a quarter-hour at any given time. Try to plan meals around instances when the senior loved one is least tired, and have thickened beverages available during the day to ensure hydration.

At Home Independent Living, the top-rated provider of respite care in Syracuse, NY and nearby locations, can help plan and prepare healthy meals and thickened beverages for a senior with dysphagia, and we’ll even pick up all of the ingredients, too! Reach out to us at (315) 579-HOME (4663) to schedule a complimentary consultation today.