There is no denying that managing the symptoms of dementia is challenging. Dementia and dysphagia often go hand in hand and can be incredibly upsetting for both you and your loved one. Marked by a difficulty with chewing and swallowing, dysphagia is a serious concern and something that every caregiver should be educated on. The highly skilled memory care caregivers of Poet’s Walk help our seniors with dementia and dysphagia on a regular basis, dedicated to providing the care and assistance they deserve.
The Link Between Dementia and Swallowing Difficulties
Many friends or family of elderly dementia patients have asked us, “Can dementia affect swallowing?”. The short answer is: yes. The brain injury or damage that causes dementia sometimes affects physical coordination and behavior, making it harder for sufferers to chew and swallow. Sometimes, certain types of dementia, such as frontotemporal dementia, cause seniors to eat too quickly, which increases the possibility of choking.
Additionally, some medications have the side effect of dry mouth, which may further affect someone’s ability to swallow properly. If unchecked, elderly people with dysphagia may end up contracting aspiration pneumonia.
Signs of Dysphagia in Dementia
Watch your loved one as they eat or drink. See if any of the following signs occur:
- Exhibiting much more effort or needing more time to eat or drink
- Gagging, throat clearing, or coughing during or after meals or snacks
- Grimacing or exaggerated movements in the jaw, lip, or tongue when trying to swallow
- Spitting food or drink out, or refusing to swallow food or drink
- “Cheeking” food or drink without chewing or swallowing
- Eating too quickly or jamming too much food or drink in their mouth
- Losing weight or becoming dehydrated
- Making noises that sound like gurgles during meal or snack times
- Congestion in the chest or developing aspiration pneumonia
These could be cues that your loved one is having difficulties swallowing. Pay close attention so you can intervene if these symptoms arise.
Tips for Managing Dysphagia
You could try any, or a combination, of these suggestions to help your loved one properly chew and swallow their food or drink. Fortunately, these tips are incredibly simple to implement and can have a significant impact on a senior’s dysphagia!
- Puree, mash, or finely chop food so that it is softer and easier for your loved one to eat.
- Be patient and allow lots of time for your loved one at meal and snack times. Don’t rush them when they are chewing or swallowing.
- Help them focus on eating or drinking. This may mean turning off the television or removing other distractions at meal and snack times.
- Give them special cups or utensils that are designed to keep the chin down while drinking, and force them to take smaller bites.
- Incorporate foods with strong flavors and varying temperatures into their diet so that the production of saliva is boosted, as well as the body’s swallowing instinct.
- Have meals and snacks when they are most alert during the day.
- Ensure that they are sitting comfortably and upright, not slumped over.
- Use a commercial thickener or pureed food to thicken liquids so they don’t trickle down the throat as easily.
- Keep watch for any signs of choking, problems swallowing or gagging.
At Poet’s Walk memory care facilities, we have an exceptional team of caregivers familiar with these and other techniques to help residents and home care clients with their dysphagia. We also offer dedicated dining services for our elderly patients to ensure they have access to healthy meals suited to their needs. Contact us for dysphagia tips or to let us help your loved one eat and drink again.