6 Expert Tips for Caregivers for Taking Care of Elderly People with Swallowing Disorders
Difficulty in swallowing food or liquids of any type is a serious issue for the elderly. This is caused by a disorder known as Dysphagia which can lead to dehydration, malnutrition or even pneumonia if left untreated. If you have a senior at home and want to take the best care of their health and nutrition, here are some tips from our experts that will come to the rescue for swallowing problems in the elderly:
- Have Them Sit Upright – This is the most important rule. When you care for an elderly person with dysphagia, you need to ensure that they are seated upright when they are eating or drinking anything. This is to facilitate food and liquid to go down the right way and to avoid it going down the airway. If they are seated in a wheelchair, hospital bed or spend their time in a recliner, then you may need to adjust their position and have their head properly supported when they are eating/being fed.
- Make Sure That They Take Their Medication Regularly – One of the difficulties that can be associated with dysphagia is swallowing pills. Elderly patients may be on oral medication and will have to continue taking them according to scheduled times. Your speech language and swallowing therapist may have recommended to provide pills with a thickened beverage instead of water or crush the pills and give them with a pudding like consistency. This will help hide the flavor of the pill. However, you also need to consult the pharmacist to know whether it is okay to crush the pills or not. You can also opt for a liquid version of the same medicine if it is available on the market, provided that they are not having issues with drinking.
- Increase Hydration – It is important for Dysphagia patients, especially older adults to stay hydrated. If the intake of water and similar liquids is difficult, then they may need and/or benefit from drinking thickened liquids. Please take into consideration that drinking thickened liquids may take longer than drinking regular liquids. You can consult a speech, language and swallowing therapist who treat swallowing disorders in adults to learn how to use a thickening agent properly.
- No Ice Creams and Jell-O – Jell-O and Ice Cream may seem to be harmless for the elderly with dysphagia, however these are items that need to be avoided. This is because both these foods will melt into a liquid into the mouth before the individual is ready to swallow, resulting in the possibility of it going down the airway.
- Ensuring Nutrition – The most important step for addressing dysphagia symptoms in adults is to make sure that they are getting enough calories and nutrients. Here are some of the ways to ensure this:
- Add yogurt, peanut butter, coconut cream, soft cheese in the dishes. These high fat foods increase the calorie content and helps them retain weight.
- Go for thick soups and pureed foods, smoothies or shakes that are nutrient-rich. Make these using their preferred vegetables.
- There are certain powders and pre-mixes available, which can help them maintain muscle. These can be added to their diet for maintaining their weight.
- Consult a nutritionist for recommendations and a proper food plan, and a speech, language and swallowing therapist for appropriate and safe solids.
- Get Rid of the Straws – Straws increase risk of liquids going down the airway for swallowing disorders in adults. This is because when drinking through a straw, the amount of liquid coming into the mouth increases and the individual may lose control of the liquid resulting in it going into the airway.
These are just some of the tips that will help you take care of the elderly with swallowing disorders. For more such tips from our speech, language and swallowing therapists, keep watching this space.