Sometimes all of us have issues with swallowing-swallowing our pride or perhaps our words. However, when an individual has problems swallowing food or liquids, it may be time to reach out to a doctor. It is estimated that approximately 15 percent of older adults have difficulty swallowing. This condition is called dysphagia, and it can cause serious health issues including malnutrition, dehydration or even aspiration pneumonia. Seniors living in retirement communities may receive nursing care to help them manage their difficulties with swallowing.
As we age, mouth and throat muscles weaken, which can lead to difficulty swallowing. Other culprits might be poorly fitting dentures, bad oral health, acid reflux, cancer or side effects from certain medications. It also can be a side effect from diseases including multiple sclerosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease or stroke.
Dysphagia is diagnosed through an x-ray swallow test administered by a speech pathologist. Additional testing may be needed to confirm a diagnosis.
Tips from nursing care staff for managing dysphagia
Here are some tips used by nursing care staff to help seniors manage dysphagia.
It is important for older adults to eat nutritious foods rich in calories, vitamins and minerals. With dysphagia, soft foods are much easier to swallow. Thin foods such as soup broths should be avoided since they can cause a senior with swallowing challenges to choke or even cause aspiration. Other foods such as ice cream or gelatin also should be avoided as they melt into thin liquids in the mouth.
Rather than eating large meals, it may be easier for seniors with dysphagia to eat several small meals. It will take longer to eat meals, and hot foods may get cold. By eating smaller meals more frequently, individuals can take their time eating, reducing the risk of choking.
Staying hydrated is critical for our bodies as water regulates body temperature, cushions and protects vital organs and aids in digestion. People living with dysphagia may struggle to take in enough liquid to stay hydrated. Simply drinking water may cause a senior to choke.
To maintain healthy hydration, seniors with dysphagia should thicken all water and drinks using powders or gels designed for this purpose. Drinking thickened liquids will take more time so patience is key to ensure a healthy hydration level.
Seniors with dysphagia may be unable to swallow pills with water, but may be able to do so with a thickened beverage. If an oral medication can be crushed, a senior receiving nursing care for dysphagia may receive it mixed with a thick, soft food such as pudding, applesauce or yogurt to mask the pill’s bitter taste. NOTE: Always check with the pharmacist to confirm whether or not certain medications can be crushed. Many medications are available in liquid form. These can be easily thickened and may be better tolerated.
Speech therapists at retirement communities evaluate swallowing capabilities and can provide exercises and advice to live successfully with dysphagia. A speech therapist may suggest:
- Food modifications such as thickening beverages and/or changing diet.
- Exercises to help strengthen the muscles used when swallowing for safe eating and drinking.
- Best positions for your body to swallow better when eating.
If you or someone you love is choking more often and experiencing difficulties swallowing, it is important to get them treatment. Country Meadows Retirement Communities has speech therapists, nursing care staff and nutritional programs in place to help residents live safely and continue to obtain proper nutrition safely.
Country Meadows offers independent living, assisted living and personal care as well as restorative care and memory support services on its nine campuses in Pennsylvania and one in Frederick, Maryland. Please contact our team for more information about how we can support you or a loved one. Our co-workers are always available to help!