There are some startling symptoms that can arise with dementia. Swallowing difficulties – dysphagia – may be one that you notice as dementia progresses. At the Spring Hills assisted living facilities, our team of highly trained and experienced memory care caregivers have the expertise to help our seniors work through any frustrations or complications associated with dementia. We offer this aid to both our assisted living residents and home care recipients, with the dedication to provide the care and attention they need to continue leading healthy and happy lives.
The Link Between Dementia and Swallowing Difficulties
When elderly patients suffer from later stage Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, part or parts of the brain may be damaged, resulting in complications related to coordination and behavior. They may find it physically difficult to chew and swallow or may be compelled to eat too quickly, leading to choking or problems swallowing.
If they are taking medications that cause dry mouth, this may further exacerbate the swallowing difficulties and frequency of choking. One of the dangers of choking or difficulties swallowing is the possibility of food being inhaled into the lungs, which can cause aspiration pneumonia.
Signs of Dysphagia in Dementia
If you suspect that your loved one may be developing difficulties swallowing, look for the following symptoms:
- Taking longer and showing more effort when eating or drinking
- Coughing or clearing the throat a lot during or after eating or drinking
- Exaggerated jaw, lip, or tongue movement – or grimacing – when swallowing
- Refusing to swallow, or spitting out food or drink
- Keeping food or drink in their mouth but not chewing or swallowing
- Eating very quickly or cramming food or drink into their mouth
- Dehydration or weight loss
- Making gurgling noises during or after eating or drinking
- Chest congestion or aspiration pneumonia
If your loved one exhibits these signs, they may be suffering from dysphagia and may require further attention and care.
Tips for Managing Dysphagia
Thankfully, there are a number of simple ways you can make it easier for your loved one to swallow food and drink. You could try:
- Providing soft food that doesn’t require much chewing – mash, puree, or finely chopped food for them to eat.
- Give them lots of time to eat and drink so they can take the time to properly chew and swallow. Don’t rush meal or snack times.
- Take away potential distractions – turn off the TV, for example – so that they can focus on eating and drinking.
- Let them use smaller or specially designed utensils and cups which are meant to encourage smaller bites and keep the chin down when drinking.
- Use stronger flavors and different temperature components in their food – these are better at stimulating saliva and swallowing motions.
- Make sure they are sitting properly – upright and comfortable.
- Set meal and snack times during their most alert times of the day.
- Thicken fluids with a commercial thickener or pureed fruit and vegetables so that the liquids won’t trickle down their throat as quickly.
- Stay alert to signs that they may be distracted or still have food in their mouth, and remind and encourage them to finish chewing and swallowing.
- Be patient – with them and with yourself. It can be a frustrating experience for both of you but when you work through it calmly and gently, your presence and help can really make a difference.
Our capable and dedicated caregivers work with residents and home care patients with dysphagia regularly. We even offer dedicated dining services for our seniors to ensure they have access to nutritious meals that suit their needs. Contact us if you have any questions about dementia and dysphagia or to find out how we can help your loved one eat and drink safely.