Choking on Water: Why Do Elderly Adults Have Difficulty Swallowing?

Choking on Water

Have you noticed your senior loved one choking on water? Learn why elderly adults have difficulty swallowing sometimes and what you can do to help here.

Difficulty swallowing — also known as dysphagia — is a common condition among senior citizens. It affects approximately 15 percent of all elderly adults.

Is your elderly parent or loved one choking on water or having trouble swallowing? If so, you know how scary it can be trying to help them. You might even feel helpless.

If you’re tired of feeling this way, or if you just want to be prepared for potential problems in the future, keep reading.

Everything you need to know about swallowing difficulties is explained below, along with information on you can prevent and treat them.

Symptoms of Dysphagia

It can sometimes be difficult to tell if an elderly loved one is suffering from dysphagia. Choking on water or food on a regular basis is an obvious symptom.

Some other symptoms are more subtle, though. The following are some of the most common symptoms of this condition:

  • The voice taking on a gurgling sounding, especially after they’ve eaten or had something to drink
  • Drooling
  • Taking a long time to finish a meal
  • Losing weight without trying because they’re avoiding eating or drinking

If you notice any of these symptoms, your loved one may be suffering from dysphagia.

Reasons for Dysphagia and Choking on Water

Why can it be so hard for elderly adults to swallow? There are a number of conditions that seniors can experience that can cause dysphagia, including the following:

  • Poor oral health or poorly fitting dentures
  • Acid reflux
  • Side effects from certain medications
  • Stroke
  • Cognitive disorders (such as Alzheimer’s or dementia)
  • Cancer of the throat, mouth, or esophagus

Sometimes, dysphagia is just a normal sign of aging. As people get older, sometimes their mouth and throat muscles begin to weaken. This, in turn, can lead to swallowing difficulties.

Diagnosing Dysphagia

If you suspect your elderly loved one has dysphagia, they’ll need to see a doctor right away. A doctor will use the following techniques to determine whether or not dysphagia is the problem:

  • A swallow test that involves being x-rayed after swallowing a contrast solution and while swallowing a variety of liquids with different consistencies
  • Visual examinations of the esophagus
  • Endoscopic swallowing tests
  • Esophageal muscle tests

These techniques will also help the doctor to determine what is causing the dysphagia.

Treating Swallowing Difficulties

If it turns out that your loved one does suffer from dysphagia, the following tips can help you to manage their condition effectively:

Proper Medication Administration

Individuals with aphasia should not be given pills to take with water. This can increase their risk of choking.

Instead, their pills should be administered with a thick liquid, such as a smoothie.

They can also be crushed up and mixed with a thick, easy-to-swallow food like pudding or applesauce. Make sure the food is sweet or has a strong flavor — this helps to mask the taste of the medication.

Maintain Hydration

It’s easy for elderly adults to become dehydrated when they suffer from dysphagia. If they can’t drink plain water, they might just not drink anything at all.

In order to help your loved one stay hydrated, their drinks will need to be thickened. There are lots of products, including thickening powders and gels, that will make their drinks safe to swallow.

Avoid Straws

Do not give your loved one liquids to drink through a straw. Straws increase the amount of liquid they can consume at one time.

This might seem like a good idea at first, but it can actually make life harder for your loved one. If they get too much liquid at once, they’re more likely to choke and have trouble swallowing.

Dietary Changes

In addition to changing up their drinks, you’ll also need to change the type of food your loved one consumes. Your loved one should eat foods that are soft and easy to consume.

Yogurt, peanut butter, pureed vegetables, and thickened soup are all good options.

Focus on giving your loved one high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods, especially if they are losing a lot of weight. Adding these foods to their diet will help them maintain their weight and avoid nutrient deficiencies.

Improved Posture

When your loved one is eating or drinking, they need to be sitting up straight in their bed or in their wheelchair.

This makes it easier for their food and drinks to go down and decreases their risk of choking. You may need to adjust their back or hold their head up to support them while they eat or drink.

Swallowing Therapy

Your loved one may benefit from swallowing therapy, too. This can be especially helpful if their dysphagia is related to a stroke or other medical condition. They might be able to work with a specialist to minimize the severity of their condition and maintain their quality of life.

Feeding Tubes

In severe cases, individuals with dysphagia may need to use a feeding tube to get adequate nutrients in a safe way. These tubes are surgically implanted and are typically seen as a last resort.

Work with a Professional

As you can see, there are a lot of things you have to take into account when caring for a loved one with dysphagia.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all these different treatment techniques and options, you might want to consider hiring a home health aide or having your loved one live in an assisted living facility.

That way, they will get the care they need at all times, and it will be administered by a professional.

Get Help for Your Loved One Today

It can be scary when your elderly loved ones begin to have trouble swallowing and experience issues like choking on water.

It’s not fun to think about these things happening, either. At these same time, though, you need to know how to prevent and handle these situations to keep your loved one safe.

Keep these tips in mind so that you’re prepared in the event that your loved one begins to choke or have trouble swallowing.

Do you need help caring for your loved one and keeping them safe? If so, we can help at MediLodge.

Contact us today to learn more about our services or to schedule a personal tour of our facilities.

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