What is dysphagia? Dysphagia is the word used when referring to someone who has difficulty swallowing. It is commonly used when a person’s esophagus does not function properly and can cause difficulties to a person trying to eat or drink. Common issues associated with dysphagia are choking and coughing as they struggle to swallow, however there can be a whole host of issues revolving around a person with dysphagia’s self-esteem and self confidence as they may feel unsettled and nervous to eat or drink out of fear of not being able to do so properly.
Dysphagia can occur for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- A stroke
- Parkinson’s disease (PD)
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
Unfortunately, people who have developed, or are developing, dysphagia may be unable to vocalize their discomfort or be unsure as to why they cannot swallow properly. Therefore, knowing the signs and symptoms can be lifesaving, especially if you are a caregiver or looking after an elderly family member. Typical signs and symptoms of dysphagia are:
- Food or liquid leaking out from the side of the mouth
- Weight loss
- Gurgling sounds after eating
- A long time spent eating meals
If you find yourself caring for a patient with dysphagia, one of your roles and responsibilities is to find ways to encourage your patient to eat. Here’s how you can do just this:
1. Buy Food Thickener
Food thickener can help stop the food from trickling down the back of the patient’s throat and causing choking hazards. It is also an ideal means of helping the patient chew their food as it adds more substance. There are many commercial thickeners on the market, however Simply Thick is a great choice as it has clear instructions and provides the tools needed to create a different variety of thickness for your foods. It is also quick and easy to prepare.
2. Allow Enough Time for Them to Eat
Never rush your patient and always allow ample amounts of time for them to eat and finish their meal. They will need longer mealtimes as they try to swallow their food (this can typically take longer); rushing them can not only stop them from eating but also increase the risk of them choking or hurting themselves.
3. Serve Smaller Meal Portions
A large meal may seem intimidating to them, so try and serve them smaller but more frequent meals so that it looks less challenging and more manageable. Finger foods are also a good option as those who have dementia find feeding themselves without the need for utensils much easier.
A patient with dysphagia can find this new way of chewing and swallowing incredibly difficult to deal with. As their caregiver, it is up to you to help them overcome this problem so that they can feel comfortable eating and swallowing their food. The above tips can help you and patient when it comes to adapting to life with dysphagia.