When your senior is having trouble swallowing, that’s called dysphagia. Until you know what she’s really up against, you can’t put a plan together to help her. These ideas can help.
Ask Her How Long it Takes for Her to Eat a Typical Meal
One good question to ask your senior is how long it takes her to eat a meal, on average. If she’s not sure, you might ask her to start paying attention to that detail. What this tells you is how difficult it might be for her to eat. The more trouble she’s having with swallowing, chewing, and other aspects of eating, the longer it likely takes for her to eat.
Dysphagia: Ask if She Tends to Cough While Eating
Something else that it helps to know is whether she coughs while she eats or if she feels as if she needs to clear her throat in between bites. This can be informative because, for people who are having trouble swallowing, it might feel as if there’s still something stuck in her throat. The coughing and throat clearing is also important to know about because they make aspiration pneumonia more likely, too.
Find out if She Feels Like Food Just Doesn’t Go Down When She Eats
When your senior is eating, does she feel as if the food doesn’t want to go down her esophagus, or does she feel as if it goes down the wrong pipe too often? This can be a sign that her throat muscles aren’t helping her as much as they should be. These issues can also cause your elderly family member to choose foods that aren’t necessarily nutritionally balanced, but that she’s able to eat more easily.
Note Any Weight Loss She’s Experienced
If your senior has lost weight suddenly, ask if she did so intentionally. Intentional weight loss typically takes time and effort, whereas weight loss that happens because your senior isn’t eating as much can often happen very quickly. Talk to her about what choices she’s making to cause that result so that you can understand what’s happening.
Dysphagia: Eat a Meal Together, if Possible
It isn’t always easy to eat a meal with your senior, especially if you’re a long-distance caregiver. But if you are able to do so, even over video chat, you might see some clues that help you to see whether she’s having trouble eating or swallowing. Another option is to hire home care providers to help with meal preparation and to offer companionship while your senior eats to watch for dysphagia symptoms. They can fill you in on what they observe.
Dysphagia isn’t something that you or your senior should ignore. Whatever she’s experiencing, talk with her doctor so that you can find a solution for her.