• The Care Company

Learn Tips to Help Seniors Who Have Difficulty Swallowing, Called Dysphagia


caregiver handing senior woman a glass of water
Learn the signs of dysphagia and how to help a senior experiencing difficulty swallowing.

There’s nothing better than a tall, cold drink on a hot summer day, but for a person with dysphagia, this simple pleasure could be dangerous. Dysphagia affects millions of older adults, because of weakened mouth and/or throat muscles. Alzheimer’s, MS, cancer, and stroke are typical culprits as well. Learn how to help seniors who have difficulty swallowing with the tips below.


Symptoms of dysphagia include:

  • Drooling

  • Coughing, choking or gagging when eating, drinking, or taking medication

  • A gurgling sound in the senior’s voice after eating/drinking

Additionally, if you suspect dysphagia in an older member of the family, ask her or him the next questions – and consult with the doctor immediately for additional assistance:

  • Are you coughing or choking when attempting to eat or drink?

  • Are you experiencing frequent difficulties with food “going down the wrong pipe?”

  • Is food getting caught in your throat?

  • Is it taking you longer to eat than it used to?

  • Have you been losing weight?

If you are caring for a senior loved one with dysphagia, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Pay attention to posture. Be sure the older adult is sitting fully upright, at a 90-degree angle, before trying to drink or eat.

  2. Bypass the straw. Straws raise the rate at which the liquid enters into the mouth, which can cause choking or aspiration.

  3. Thicken liquids. Most pharmacies sell thickening powders or gels that should be added to all fluids for anyone with dysphagia. However, abstain from serving ice cream and jello, which change from their thickened form to a liquid in the mouth.

  4. Keep nutritional needs in mind. Good choices for dysphagia-friendly foods include yogurt, pureed veggies, pureed fruits, pureed lentils, and pureed beans, avocado, soft cheese, and creamy nut butters. Find some easy dysphagia-friendly recipes.

  5. Think through medication administration. Washing down pills with thickened liquid can be challenging. Speak with the prescribing doctor and/or pharmacist to see if meds can be crushed and combined with pudding or applesauce to help them go down easier.

  6. Timing is everything. The exhaustion that accompanies a chronic health issue that causes dysphagia may make it tough to drink or eat for longer than a quarter-hour at any given time. Try to plan meals around instances when your loved one is least tired, and have thickened beverages available throughout the day to ensure hydration.

The Care Company is available to help plan and prepare healthy meals and thickened drinks for a senior with dysphagia, and we will even pick up all the ingredients, too! Reach out to us at 416-422-2273 to learn more about senior home care in Toronto and the surrounding areas.