Dysphagia is a broad term used for designating a wide range of acute and chronic swallowing difficulties. Dysphagia is categorized as both a cluster of symptoms and an effect of multiple possible diseases and conditions commonly associated with the elderly. Since dysphagia can lead to grave consequences without proper management, knowing how to do so successfully is of the utmost importance to all care providers.
This is applicable for both personal and professional caregivers but there is a difference in terms of severity. Based on how many senior lives depend on professional senior care providers on a daily basis, the following suggestions should be considered essential.
Learn How and When to Use a Food & Drink Thickener
Senior care professionals are generally aware of the vital role that food and beverage thickeners play in managing dysphagia. They tend to increase the consistency of foods and drinks that people with dysphagia would otherwise find difficult to swallow. However, caregivers must also possess advanced knowledge regarding which products are meant to be used with which specific types of food and in what quantity.
For example, starch-based food thickeners can have negative side effects on the elderly, especially if they are diabetic and/or if they are gluten intolerant. Shifting to a gum-based thickener is highly recommended to eliminate all known side effects. If you own, run, manage, or work in a senior care establishment, connect with SimplyThick on LinkedIn for more information on gum based food and beverage thickeners.
Pay Close Attention to their Nutrition and Hydration
When the very act of eating and drinking becomes a constant cause for pain, fear, embarrassment, and choking hazard, it’s not uncommon for seniors to reduce their food and water intake drastically. Sometimes, they may completely stop eating and drinking, leading to rapid malnutrition and dehydration. In combination with preexisting medical conditions that may already be wreaking havoc on their health, the results can be life-threatening.
Pay close attention to make sure that each senior under your care is receiving high quality blended food and thickened drinks that meet their specific daily needs for nutrition and hydration. Also, some elders might need close monitoring at the time of their meals to make sure that they are actually ingesting their meals.
Ensure that the Underlying Cause is Diagnosed
Swallowing difficulties can be brought on by number of potential health problems that range from ALS, achalasia, diffuse spasm, and esophageal stricture to Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and cerebral stroke to name just a few. Unless the underlying cause is detected and treated accordingly, management can be extremely difficult, if not impossible at latter stages.
Exactly what you can do to get your patient properly checked and diagnosed is highly variable, unfortunately. It would depend on several factors such as:
- The setting (home care, nursing home, assisted living facility, etc.)
- The qualifications, rank, and experience of the caregiver
- The senior’s wishes or that of their legal guardian(s)
- Concurrent medical health of the senior
- Financial standing and insurance coverage
All the same, any care provider who suspects that someone under their care is suffering from swallowing difficulties has a duty to officially report their suspicions to the supervising physician/nurse, or the legal guardian in case of home care. Barium tests, manometry, endoscopy, etc., are common medical examinations ordered by physicians to confirm or negate suspicions of dysphagia.