Difficulty swallowing food or thin liquids, a condition known as dysphagia, is common within the elderly population. If a senior’s swallowing impairment persists, it can cause aspiration pneumonia, dehydration, and malnutrition.
When you’re providing care for a senior loved one that may have a swallowing impairment, look for signs like swallowing-induced coughing, choking or throat pain, along with drooling, regurgitation and weight loss. Caring for a senior with dysphagia who’s still aging in place at home can be disheartening, especially when you know their health and wellbeing are jeopardized. The good news is that there are several delicious and nutritious foods that you can try that should help keep your loved one healthier and happier, while living independently at home.
What Causes Dysphagia?
There are several known causes of dysphagia, which physicians categorize as either oropharyngeal or esophageal in nature:
- Neurological disorders including stroke, dementia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or cerebral palsy
- Nerve damage from radiation therapy
- Tumors in the mouth, throat or lymph nodes
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Esophageal stricture
- Allergic reaction
- Foreign body lodged in throat
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Try these Soft Food Ideas
To keep a senior with dysphagia healthy, you’ll need to prepare soft foods that provide them with a balanced diet enriched with the daily calories, vitamins and minerals their body needs. And, that means offerings from the 4 essential food groups. Here are some dietary ideas to use, broken down by food group:
Most all dairy products are safe and easy-to-swallow as part of a soft diet. Acceptable items include yogurt, custard, pudding, cottage cheese (small curd), cream cheese, and ricotta cheese. Cheese is a great source of calories for an underweight senior, and can be added as a sauce to many dishes while avoiding hard pieces like cheese cubes or slices. Milk is always a good dairy source, but some seniors with a swallowing impairment have trouble ingesting it.
Tender varieties of meat, fish and poultry are all good sources of protein, but must be ground or pureed first for swallowing. To make it even easier, add gravy or sauces to the finely-chopped meat, or include the meat in a soft casserole or soup. Other softer foods high in protein are scrambled eggs, chicken or tuna salad, and well-cooked beans. Smooth peanut butter is a possibility, but it can irritate some seniors with a swallowing impairment. Avoid feeding them tougher meats (pork chops or steak), sausage with casing, hot dogs, hard-boiled eggs, granola, seeds or nuts.
Breads and Grains
Many breads are easy to chew, but some are hard to swallow due to their consistency, like those containing whole grains or oats. Avoid feeding them breads with raisins, nuts or seeds, along with hard, dry crackers or cereals. If they can tolerate thin liquids, first moisten the cereal, bread or crackers with milk or another liquid. Rice or pastas that are well-cooked are also good choices for those with a swallowing impairment.
Fruits and Vegetables
Your parents always told you to eat your veggies, and that’s because they’re filled with nutrients. Unfortunately, most can’t be swallowed by seniors with dysphagia, and that requires some creativity. Make your loved one a smoothie, very finely blended, that contains various fruits and vegetables that they like. Ripe bananas can be eaten as is, and other safe options include applesauce, mashed skinless potatoes, canned green beans and cooked spinach. If thin liquids are tolerated, give your senior some 100% fruit juice or nectar. All raw vegetables should be cooked to the point they are soft enough to be mashed with a fork, or be pureed or of the canned variety.
At-Home Assistance for Seniors with Dysphagia
Providing care to an at-home senior with a swallowing impairment can be challenging and time-consuming. When you need to take a break, or live too far away, a reliable caregiver from Cranberry Home Care can step in and restore your peace-of-mind. Our aids understand how to safely feed seniors with swallowing difficulties, and have the experience and training to recommend the nutritious foods your loved one needs. Our family-trusted home care services also include personal hygiene, light housework, transportation and companionship, all delivered in a customized and affordable package to put your mind at-ease. To learn more about how swallowing disorders impact seniors, or to schedule an initial in-home consultation in the Southeastern Massachusetts area with Cranberry Home Care now, please visit: www.cranberryhomecare.com.