How To Help Someone with Swallowing Difficulties Eat and Drink Safely?


Even though most people do not have any issue eating, drinking, and swallowing, there are some for whom the things that seem simple to others are a great challenge. There are many reasons why you may have trouble swallowing, clinically known as dysphagia.

Declining motor skills, different cognitive disorders, and certain illnesses can all cause dysphagia. Swallowing difficulties can lead to serious issues such as rapid weight loss or choking, which can be difficult to detect if one has other conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

Help Someone with Swallowing Difficulties

In this article, we will look at some things you can do to ensure eating and drinking are safe for those with dysphagia.

Remove all Distractions During Meal Times

A certain level of focus is required when eating and drinking, and this applies to everyone, even those in perfect health.

Those with swallowing difficulties require a higher level of focus and concentration during these activities. This is why it is so important to ensure there are no distractions around them while they eat.

Removing distractions is especially important for those grappling with various cognitive disorders.

Swallowing is an involved and coordinated activity where your body stops doing one thing so it can do another. For example, you need to stop breathing for an instant to swallow

This coordination can be disrupted if the person tries to do too many things while eating such as talking and eating or drinking and talking.

It is important to ensure there are only a few people in the room while they eat, using a few pieces of utensils and avoiding playing items on the table are all other great ways of minimizing distractions.

Also Read: How To Eat To Manage Diabetics

Modify The Food or Drink

There are various ways to modify foods or drinks, so they become easier to consume. Changing food visually is not too difficult but modifying it so that it becomes easier to swallow can be.

The texture of different foods can present unique challenges, in which case a caregiver can use different products to make swallowing easier.

One way of doing so is using thickeners. There are different options available, but the one thing they have in common is that they make the food taste good and look presentable while also making it easier to swallow.

These thickeners can be added to different foods and drinks, and you can see how to do so by visiting the SimplyThick Facebook page that showcases different ways of adding thickeners to common foods and drinks.

Encourage Slow Eating, Chewing and Smaller Bites

For loved ones with cognitive conditions, finishing a plate of food or a drink takes longer. This is because they are likely to take a long time before swallowing single bites.

For this reason, caregivers should encourage them to take smaller bites, so they do not keep the food in the mouth too long, and so they do not have trouble swallowing.

Additionally, caregivers should consider giving their loved ones smaller, more frequent meals so they still fulfill their dietary requirements without taking too long to finish their food.

Use Visual and Verbal Cues

Visual and verbal cues can also be extremely helpful in helping loved ones with dysphagia. Transparent dishware that makes it easy to see the foods as well as one that does not have patterns to reduce distractors works well.

Verbal cues that include specific verbal directions are helpful. You can ask them to open their mouths, chew and swallow when appropriate. Remember to not rush them and always give simple cues.

If you decide to let them select the foods they would like to eat, keep the options simple and ask yes/no questions. Open-ended questions can present a new set of challenges, especially if the loved one has dementia or other cognitive disorders.

Ensure Proper Posture When Eating

Posture is especially important when talking about the safety of someone who has trouble swallowing. Ensure the loved one is comfortable and upright any time they wish to eat or drink something. You should also ensure they remain upright for about 30 minutes after meals to ensure better digestion.

If your loved one or person you are caring for shows they are uncomfortable with their posture, you can talk to them to find a posture that works for them.

The key is ensuring they are not lying down at any point during the meal. You can make them comfortable with pillows and such, and always listen and adjust according to their wishes.

Other recommendations include the chin tuck where the tongue moves to the back of the throat to prevent aspiration, and head rotation so they always chew food with their stronger side. This is useful for those whose dysphagia is caused by weakness on one side of the throat or jaw.

Also Read: How To Eat Pasta In A Healthy Way


Dysphagia can turn dangerous very quickly if a loved one chokes or aspirates. It is best to find ways to help them swallow safely, even if that means making some changes to their foods and drinks.


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