Dysphagia, a condition that causes difficulty swallowing food and liquids, affects approximately 15% of seniors. This already serious problem can cause even more severe complications such as malnutrition, dehydration, and aspiration pneumonia if it is not managed correctly. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing caregivers can do to make their clients’ or loved ones’ lives easier, though. Read on to find out about six things you need to know if you care for someone with dysphagia.
The Straw Issue
It may seem like using a straw would help a patient with dysphagia, but the reality is that many patients struggling with this disorder have weakened muscles in their throats. This can cause the liquid propelled through straws to wind up going down the wrong pipe, leading to choking and increasing the risk of developing aspiration pneumonia. Plus, medical studies have shown that drinking from a cup actually allows people with dysphagia to consume more liquids more comfortably than using straws.
A Word About Ice Cream and Jello
While ice cream and jello are often considered staple desserts for older adults without dysphagia, anyone who has difficulty swallowing should avoid them. The reason is simple. When you eat ice cream, it melts in your mouth and turns into a much thinner liquid. Consuming thin liquids can increase the risk of aspiration, so it should be avoided.
Finding the Right Thickened Drinks
People with dysphagia need to drink thickened liquids in order to stay hydrated without risking aspiration. Not all of them are created equally, though, so it’s best to order products like Simply Thick that are made specifically for dysphagia patients. This will not only help your loved one or client stay hydrated and get enough nutrition, but will also ensure that the taste of his or her food and drinks is not compromised.
Optimizing Meal Times
It is very common for dysphagia to accompany other serious, chronic illnesses. When these illnesses cause extreme fatigue, it can make eating and drinking very difficult. That’s why it’s always a good idea to time meals appropriately and spread them out throughout the day.
You may think it’s not worth correcting your client or loved one’s posture while he or she eats if it tends to elicit frustration. However, it’s important that anyone with dysphagia sit up completely while eating and drinking, whether they’re in a hospital bed or a recliner. It’s sometimes necessary to help patients with severe dysphagia hold their heads up during meals, as well.
Pills tend to taste pretty bad if they don’t go down right. While most people take their pills with water, patients who have dysphagia can’t do that. Instead, they should be given thickened liquids when they take their medications and these liquids should taste good so that they mask the unpleasant taste of medications.
Whether you’re helping a loved one who is struggling with a chronic disease or you’re a professional caretaker looking for better ways to make your clients more comfortable, caring for someone with dysphagia is always difficult. Keeping the information above in mind can make it a little bit easier.