Coping with Dysphagia: Tips and Strategies for Seniors and Caregivers

Difficulties with swallowing, also known as dysphagia, affect many people around the world, especially the elderly. It is often caused by other health conditions such as those that impact the nervous system, dementia, head trauma, and many others. It can be very serious, causing dehydration and malnutrition in those who shun food and drinks due to how uncomfortable and difficult swallowing becomes. It can also lead to aspiration pneumonia and recurrent lung infections. Due to these serious effects, those with swallowing difficulties should find ways to manage and cope with it.

Adjust How You Take Medication

Many of the seniors with dysphagia are also typically taking other medication. Taking oral medications with a thickened beverage can help make swallowing the medication easier. The pills can also be crushed and mixed with a thickened beverage for easier swallowing. Before doing this, however, talk to your doctor to see which medications can be crushed and taken like this. Some medications are meant to be released slowly in the stomach, and crushing increases the rate of absorption or alters where they are absorbed, which is not how these medications are meant to work.

Thicken Foods and Drinks

We have mentioned thickening beverages to make swallowing medication easier, but the same strategy can be adopted for other foods and drinks. Changing the texture and viscosity of foods and beverages can make them go down easier and thus reduce the risk of coughing and choking often associated with dysphagia.

It is a good idea to find a thicker that a person with dysphagia will tolerate. This means one that doesn’t change the taste of food and beverages so much that they become undesirable. Options like SimplyThick are great in such situations. The instant food thickener SimplyThick uses gum rather than starch to thicken foods and beverages, making them safer to swallow without changing their taste.

Adapt Safe Eating Habits

Eating habits can also help with swallowing difficulties, ensuring you get the nutrition and hydration you need. One thing that helps is sitting upright, which makes it easier for food and drinks to go down easier. It’s also a good idea to use an appropriately sized spoon to ensure the person with dysphagia does not take bites that are too big. Bigger bites can present chewing issues, especially in the elderly, and these issues can lead to swallowing difficulties.

Lastly, caregivers should ensure the person with swallowing difficulties clears their mouth before taking the next bite or sip. Verbal prompts work very well to prevent the retention of food and drinks in the cheeks, something that people with dysphagia do to avoid the discomfort of swallowing.

Space Out Meals

People with dysphagia accompanied by chronic illnesses typically have weakness and fatigue which makes it difficult to eat for more than 15 minutes. The weaker and more tired they are, the harder it will be for them to swallow. It is, therefore, much better to space out their meals, ensuring they eat a little at a given time. Just ensure they eat as many times as possible so that they get all their nutrients in 24 hours.

Dysphagia can make caregiving more difficult, with seniors living alone and with the condition being at a higher risk for other issues like dehydration and malnutrition. Knowing how to deal with dysphagia goes a long way in helping them remain healthy, especially in cases where they have other conditions or illnesses.

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