Signs of Dysphagia in Older Adults

caregiver giving senior woman a glass of water

If you suspect a loved one has dysphagia, check with a physician right away.

On a hot summer day, there is nothing more satisfying than a tall, cold drink, but for a person with dysphagia, this simple pleasure can be downright dangerous. Dysphagia – or difficulty with swallowing – impacts millions of seniors, as a result of weakened mouth and/or throat muscles. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, MS and stroke are typical root causes as well.

Signs of dysphagia include:

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

In addition, in the event that you suspect dysphagia in an older member of the family, ask him or her the following questions – and check with the physician right away for further guidance:

  • Are you choking or coughing when trying to drink or eat?
  • Are you experiencing frequent problems with food “going down the wrong pipe?”
  • Is food getting caught in your throat?
  • Is it taking you longer to eat food than it used to?
  • Have you been losing weight?

If you’re caring for a senior loved one with dysphagia, keep these tips in mind:

  • Make note of posture. Be sure the older adult is sitting completely upright, at a 90-degree angle, before attempting to eat or drink.
  • Forget the straw. Straws raise the rate at which the liquid goes into the mouth, which can cause aspiration or choking.
  • Thicken liquids. Most pharmacies sell thickening powders or gels that should be added to all fluids for anyone with dysphagia. However, abstain from serving jello and ice cream, which change from their thickened form to a liquid in the mouth.
  • Keep nutritional needs in mind. Good choices for dysphagia-friendly foods include yogurt, pureed veggies, pureed fruits, pureed lentils, and pureed beans, soft cheese, avocado, and creamy nut butters. Discover some easy dysphagia-friendly recipes.
  • Think through prescription drug administration. Washing down pills with thickened liquid may be difficult. Seek advice from the prescribing doctor and/or pharmacist to see if meds can be crushed and mixed with pudding or applesauce to help them go down easier.
  • Timing is everything. The fatigue that accompanies a chronic health condition that creates dysphagia may make it difficult to eat or drink for more than 15 minutes at any given time. Try to plan meals around instances when the senior is least tired, and have thickened beverages available throughout the day to ensure hydration.

CareWorks Health Services, an award-winning provider of Huntington Beach senior services, is available to help plan and prepare healthy meals and thickened beverages for a senior loved one with dysphagia, and we’ll even pick up all the ingredients, too! Reach out to us at (949) 859-4700 for more information about our home care services and visit our Service Area page to learn about all of the Orange County communities we serve.