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How to Choose the Right Beverage Thickeners for Dysphagia

Updated: May 24

senior lady with Dysphagia drinking smoothie

Unless you have had to use beverage thickeners for dysphagia, you most likely have not given much thought to the various textures and consistencies of the liquids in your diet. When you are feeling thirsty, nothing hits the spot like an ice-cold glass of water. On a hot summer day, you might crave a refreshing milkshake. And when you are recovering from the flu, a hot bowl of soup is just what you need.

With a swallowing disorder, however, liquids must be thickened, making it difficult to feel as though your thirst is quenched, and changing your ability to enjoy things such as that first hot cup of coffee in the morning, or a glass of your favorite soda at lunchtime. Adjusting to thickened liquids takes some time, but these suggestions will help.

What Are the Best Beverage Thickeners?

It depends upon the person’s individual preference, and might take some experimentation to determine which works best. The physician will advise on the degree of thickness needed, which can range from thin, to nectar- or honey-like, to spoon-thick. The kinds of thickeners available include:

  • Starch powders, made of modified cornstarch, which must be served immediately after mixing in order to avoid lumpiness or a gritty texture or taste.

  • Gum-based powders, which are relatively new and are often a preferred option over starch powders, as they maintain their viscosity over time, and work without adding grit, flavor, or cloudiness to the liquid.

  • Liquid or gel thickeners that blend easily without clumping, even into beverages that can be more difficult to thicken, such as soda, hot foods, or supplement beverages.

  • Pre-thickened products that are becoming increasingly available, in either honey or nectar consistencies.

It’s important to make sure someone with a swallowing disorder remains hydrated. Certain fluids could be more palatable, particularly as the person is adjusting to thickened liquids. Try fruit juice, which will be similar in texture to a smoothie or fruit puree. You may also freeze thickened juice, or any other thickened beverage, into an ice pop.

It’s also helpful to be aware that beverage thickeners may be covered by Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance providers. Although these products can be found over the counter, ask the doctor to write a prescription and include the requirement for a beverage thickener in the older adult's chart notes to see if the cost is reimbursable.

As an award-winning provider of elderly home care in Toronto and the surrounding areas, our caregivers can help prepare thickened beverages and offer encouragement to make sure someone with a swallowing disorder stays hydrated and healthy. Additionally, we can provide a number of other senior care services at home. Give us a call at (416) 422-2273 to request a complimentary in-home consultation or for more information and additional senior care tips.

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