Dysphagia can affect anyone. Some people experience dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing as a result of another health condition, in which case, it can be a short-term or fairly mild issue without a big impact on day-to-day life. But dysphagia is much more common in seniors, affecting around 15% of the senior population and up to 70% of seniors living in care homes or assisted living.
In older people, difficulty swallowing is often caused by a weakening of the mouth and throat muscles or a degenerative condition. Unfortunately, for this kind of dysphagia, symptoms can only be managed. Without the right care, it can lead to aspiration, which is when a liquid goes into the lungs instead of the stomach and can cause pneumonia and other serious health problems.
However, dysphagia doesn’t mean that you can no longer live at home with the help of a carer or other support. There’s plenty that you can do to manage symptoms, preventing common side effects like malnutrition and pneumonia.
Make Hydration a Priority
Dehydration is a common problem with people living at home with dysphagia, especially those that live alone and don’t have full-time help. SimplyThick can make drinking water and other fluids easier;it is mixed with drinks to thicken them. This means that the liquid moves more slowly and gives the weakened muscles a better chance of getting the liquid into the stomach, instead of the lungs.
If you are having trouble drinking, straws might seem like a quick fix. But straws do the opposite of thickeners, transporting the liquid too quickly into the throat.
Experiment with Different Tastes and Textures
Difficulty swallowing, unless swallowing is near impossible, doesn’t have to mean that you can’t enjoy different tastes and textures, and even eating out. Put your blender to good use (or instruct your home help), in particular blending up fruits and vegetables to add nutrition to your diet as well as flavor.
However, you should avoid some foods that are popular with seniors, such as soft ice cream and jello. Because it takes you longer to move the food in your mouth, these foods melt quickly, turning to liquid, and rushing down into your throat before you’ve had a chance to realize it. This can cause aspiration.
Add High Fat Foods to Your Diet
High-fat foods like Greek yogurt can easily be added to sweet and savory dishes, whether smooth or completely pureed. These will add calories, and they taste great, helping you to gain or maintain weight which is incredibly important if you are struggling to swallow.
Work on Your Posture
Sitting completely straight to eat can help your food on its journey, making swallowing more comfortable and decreasing the risks. If you are at home, you might still be fairly mobile, so practice your posture during the day, working on strengthening your back and neck with gentle stretches. If you are in a wheelchair, or even in bed, ask someone to help you with stretches.
Eat Little and Often and Get Plenty of Rest
When swallowing is hard, eating is exhausting. Even a simple soup or pureed meal could take you much longer to eat than it would other people and be incredibly tiring. Try eating smaller amounts more often, and stopping to rest when you need to.
With help, you can live at home with dysphagia. But you should be prepared to make some changes and to seek support where needed.