May 24, 2021

caregiver handing water to senior

Find help for dysphagia in elderly loved ones here.

On a hot summer day, there is nothing more satisfying than a tall, cold drink, but dysphagia in elderly adults can cause this simple pleasure to be dangerous. Dysphagia – or difficulty with swallowing – affects millions of older adults, as a result of weakened mouth and/or throat muscles. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, MS and stroke are typical causes as well.

Symptoms of dysphagia include:

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

Additionally, in the event that you suspect dysphagia in an elderly family member, ask him or her the following questions – and check with the medical practitioner right away for additional guidance:

  • Are you coughing or choking when trying to drink or eat?
  • Are you having regular 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 the following tips in mind:

  1. Make note of posture. Be sure the older adult is sitting completely upright, at a 90-degree angle, before trying to eat or drink.
  2. Avoid the straw. Straws increase the rate at which the liquid enters the mouth, which can cause choking or aspiration.
  3. Thicken liquids. Most pharmacies sell thickening gels or powders 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.
  4. Keep nutritional needs in mind. Good options 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 here.
  5. Consider prescription drug administration. Washing down pills with thickened liquid could be challenging. Seek advice from the prescribing doctor and/or pharmacist to see if meds can be crushed and combined with applesauce or pudding to help them go down easier.
  6. Timing is everything. The fatigue that accompanies a chronic medical condition that causes dysphagia can make it hard to eat or drink for more than fifteen minutes at any given time. Try to plan meals around times when your loved one is least tired, and have thickened drinks available during the day to ensure hydration.

Continuum’s award-winning caregivers in St. Louis and nearby locations are available to help plan and prepare healthy meals and thickened drinks for a senior with dysphagia, and we’ll even pick up all the ingredients, too! Contact us for a free consultation at (314) 863-9912 or (636) 861-3336.