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Top Tips for those with difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)

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Dysphagia is a condition that means it is hard to swallow food or liquid. Not only is this distressing in itself, but if the person it is impacting is not eating it can lead to serious problems such as malnutrition, pneumonia or dehydration. This is why it is so important to try and assist with this as soon as possible. Some of the main conditions which could lead to dysphagia include Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, a stroke, head injury and cancer, particularly cancer of the oesophagus. Often, medical conditions such as the above, can cause the nerves or muscles in the throat to become weak or not work properly, making it difficult to swallow food and drink.

What are the symptoms of dysphagia?

If you have dysphagia you could have difficulty swallowing certain liquids or foods, cough or choke when drinking or eating, bring food back up and be unable to chew food properly.

What does a nutritious diet include?

A nutritious diet will keep the body and mind healthy, strong and in the best state possible. A nutritious diet should consist of the following:
Carbohydrates – Found in foods like pasta, bread, cereals and rice

Healthy fats – Healthy fats are present in dairy, butter and oil
Protein – Protein can be found in pulses, nuts, meat, eggs and fish
Vitamins and minerals – Different vitamins and minerals are found in different foods. For example, Vitamin C is present in citrus fruits, Iron in meat, poultry and beans and Vitamin A in vegetables such as carrots and kale.
Fluids – Water is best for the body to keep you hydrated

Top Tips for those with difficulty swallowing dysphagiaHow to help someone with dysphagia swallow their food and drink

There are a number of different tips and methods for people with dysphagia and it is a good idea to try different techniques and see what works best for the individual. These are just a few things you can try to help your loved one.

  • Encourage them to sit upright, relax and take their time with chewing small, manageable pieces of food
  • Have more frequent, smaller meals and snacks rather than three large meals in a day
  • Eat soft foods that are easy on the throat, such as soup or yoghurt
  • Mash up food that is not naturally soft, or finely chop it so it is easy to manage. This can include meat, vegetables and fruit
  • Cook food until it becomes tender. This includes cooking rice or vegetables for longer to ensure they are soft and easier to swallow
  • Make smoothies or shakes. Instead of trying to help them to eat an apple or banana, why not put them together in a blender and make them into a smoothie? You can add milk to make it easier to swallow. You could also add in some protein powder to ensure they are getting enough protein for their body
  • Use plenty of gravy and sauce to help food go down easier
  • Avoid foods that are too salty, dry, sticky or have pips in as these can all be difficult to swallow
  • Take small sips of water or another drink between mouthfuls. Make sure these are small sips. If not, you might get full of water

How to decide what to make
There are also a host of recipe books out there which are specifically designed for dysphagia and if you need help with swallowing. No matter if you are suffering from swallowing and need help with Parkinson’s care, Multiple Sclerosis Care, Stroke Care, head injury care and cancer care, there are some great resources to help. You could also try looking on Pinterest. Speak to the individual who is impacted and ask what foods they fancy. You can then put together a plan and some recipes based on this.

Remember that each individual is different and that some techniques might work better than others. Communicate with the individual and see what they feel comfortable with trying.

If you have someone coming in to help with the care of your loved one with Parkinsons, Multiple Sclerosis, a stroke, head injury, cancer or anything else that can cause dysphagia, be sure to voice any questions you might have. We have a range of home care health professionals who can help. Find out more about how we can help with Parkinson’s care, Multiple Sclerosis Care, Stroke Care, head injury care and cancer care as well as our other services here.

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