Understanding and Overcoming Dysphagia Symptoms

Family caregiver handing a glass of water to senior loved one

Understanding dysphagia symptoms and how to mitigate them can help seniors maintain proper health and hydration.

On a hot summer day, there is nothing more satisfying than a tall, cold drink, but for a senior with dysphagia symptoms, this simple pleasure could be dangerous. Dysphagia – or trouble with swallowing – affects millions of older adults, due to weakened mouth and/or throat muscles. Alzheimer’s, MS, cancer, and stroke are all root causes as well.

Dysphagia symptoms include:

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

Additionally, if you suspect dysphagia in a senior family member, ask her or him the following questions – and check with the physician immediately for additional assistance:

  • Have you been choking or coughing when attempting to eat or drink?
  • Are you having frequent 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?
  • Are you losing weight?

If you are caring for a senior with dysphagia, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Pay attention to posture. Ensure that the older adult is sitting completely upright, at a 90-degree angle, before attempting to drink or eat.
  2. Avoid the straw. Straws speed up the rate at which the liquid goes 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, avoid serving jello and ice cream, 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 lentils, and pureed beans, avocado, soft cheese, and creamy nut butters. Find some easy dysphagia-friendly recipes here.
  5. Consider medication administration. Washing down pills with thickened liquid can be challenging. Consult with 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 issue that causes dysphagia may make it tough to drink or eat for longer than fifteen minutes at a time. Try to plan meals around times when the senior is least tired, and have thickened beverages available throughout the day to ensure hydration.

Advanced Home Health Care, experts in senior home care in Burlington and the surrounding communities, can help plan and prepare healthy meals and thickened drinks for a senior with dysphagia, and we’ll even pick up all of the ingredients, too! Reach out to us at 319.753.6270 to schedule a complimentary consultation today.

The Care You Need. The Quality You Deserve.