Dysphagia is a condition where someone finds it difficult to swallow, and it can be caused by various other ailments. For example, dementia patients often develop dysphagia, as well as patients that have throat or mouth cancer, or those suffering from MS or who have had a stroke. It’s a distressing experience as it turns eating and drinking, something that normally requires no effort or thought, into a daily challenge. Not only can it be uncomfortable and painful, but feeling self-conscious about trying to eat or drink is also something they might be experiencing. If you know someone who is going through dysphagia, here are a few tips on how you can support them:
Thin liquids can be dangerous for a person with dysphagia as they heighten the risk of choking. You can purchase thickeners to add to certain foods and beverages to help with this, such as Simply Thick. Easily pureed foods are also ideal, such as mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, fruits, and vegetables.
Another thing to be mindful of when they are eating is their posture. If they are slumped over the dinner table or eating in an awkward position, this will only make swallowing more difficult for them than it already is. Make sure they are sitting in an upright position with the right support, so eating their food or having a drink is a little easier for them to accomplish.
Perhaps at times when you have had difficulty swallowing due to a throat infection, you might have preferred to use a straw. However, it’s important to remember that dysphagia is a more complex condition, and straws can be more of a hindrance than a help. This is because it requires more muscle movement to suck the liquid up through the straw, and this is something a person with dysphagia will find tiring.
Serve Smaller Portions
While it’s important they get the right amount of food to maintain a healthy diet, it will be easier for them to manage smaller meal portions. If they can eat more, that’s great, but this will help relieve some of the pressure and make meals more manageable. It’s also worth trying to time meals at periods throughout the day when they have more energy as this will make it less tiring for them when they do try to eat.
As eating is a difficult experience for them, there might be times when they refuse to eat or drink or are reluctant to do so. This might be frustrating for you, but try to be patient. The more pressure you put on them to eat, the more likely they will resist, and this can cause unnecessary tensions. Ask them just to try and eat or drink a little of what you have provided for them and see how they get on. Also, although you are there to help them, avoid staring at them or making too much of a fuss, so they don’t feel self-conscious while they try to eat.
As dysphagia can be caused by a variety of other conditions, use these tips alongside more specific care for what else they might be dealing with to make sure you’re giving them the right support.