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Caring for a Loved One with Dysphagia

Dysphagia can make eating and drinking more difficult. Learn tips to help someone managing dysphagia.

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

Symptoms of dysphagia include:

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

Additionally, in the event that you suspect dysphagia in an older family member, ask him or her the following questions – and consult with the medical practitioner immediately for further guidance:

  • Have you been choking or coughing when attempting to drink or eat?
  • 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 than it used to?
  • Have you been losing weight?

If you’re caring for a senior loved one with dysphagia, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Pay attention to posture. Be sure the senior is sitting fully upright, at a 90-degree angle, before trying to drink or eat.
  2. Bypass the straw. Straws speed up the rate at which the liquid enters the mouth, which can cause choking or aspiration. 
  3. Thicken liquids. Most pharmacies sell thickening powders or gels 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 nutrition in mind. Good choices for dysphagia-friendly foods include yogurt, pureed veggies, pureed fruits, pureed beans, pureed lentils, soft cheese, avocado, and creamy nut butters. Discover some easy dysphagia-friendly recipes here. 
  5. Consider medication administration. Washing down pills with thickened liquid may be challenging. Seek advice from the prescribing doctor and/or pharmacist to see if prescription drugs 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 health condition which causes dysphagia may make it tough to eat or drink for longer than fifteen minutes at a time. Try to plan meals around instances when the senior is least tired, and have thickened drinks available throughout the day to ensure hydration.

CareFor is available to help plan and prepare healthy meals and thickened drinks for a loved one with dysphagia, and we will even pick up all of the ingredients, too! Contact us online or call (512) 338-4533 to learn more about our Austin caregiving services and in-home care in the surrounding areas or to schedule a free consultation.