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Chew and Swallow: How to Get Adequate Nutrition When Eating is Difficult

While we recognize the benefits of a nutritious diet, chewing and swallowing can hinder a senior's ability to maintain proper nutrition.
Home Care Spruce Grove
Home Care Spruce Grove

Since childhood, we’ve been told that eating an apple a day will keep the doctor away, instilling the importance of healthy eating from a young age. While we recognize the benefits of a nutritious diet, which includes improved cardiovascular, brain, and bone health, challenges with chewing and swallowing can hinder one’s ability to maintain proper nutrition. Many of our elderly loved one’s face difficulties with chewing and swallowing, often due to the disease processes of Parkinson’s or later stage Dementia. This makes maintaining a healthy diet challenging, as mealtime can become a stressful and intimidating experience. In this article, we will examine some useful tips and tricks to help with eating, ensuring that mealtime can be a safe and enjoyable experience.

Before we continue with helpful tips, if you are experiencing difficulties eating, be sure to have your family physician refer you to a Speech Language Pathologist. A Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) plays a crucial role in assessing, diagnosing, and managing difficulties related to chewing and swallowing, a condition known as dysphagia. Since the interventions are highly individualised, the SLPs can assess and adjust their strategies based on the individual’s progress and changing needs. SLPs can provide essential exercises and techniques to help safe chewing and swallowing during mealtimes.

Four tips for safe chewing and swallowing during mealtimes:

1. Make yourself comfortable during mealtimes and avoid distractions:

Being comfortable at your dining table encourages proper and well-supported posture. Good posture promotes optimal alignment of the head, neck, and body, facilitating the swallowing process. Avoid watching TV, talking, or moving around when you are eating. Minimizing distractions allows you to concentrate on the act of eating. This can lead to more mindful chewing and swallowing, reducing the risk of aspiration (inhaling liquids into the airway) or choking.

2. Modify food/drink textures and manage your portion sizes:

Choose softer foods that are easier to chew and swallow, such as well-cooked vegetables, soft fruits, and tender meats. Consider using a food processor or blenders to create smoother textures if needed. If thin liquids pose a challenge, consider using thickened liquids to reduce the risk of aspiration. Choose smaller, more manageable portion sizes to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Smaller portion sizes may also encourage a slower pace of eating, promoting a safer and more manageable swallowing process. It is important to take your time during meals, chewing each bite thoroughly before swallowing.

3. Tuck your chin down to help you swallow:

Tucking your chin down can be a helpful technique for some individuals with swallowing difficulties. This technique while used during swallowing can help protect the airway and facilitate the passage of food or liquids through the esophagus.

It is important to note that the chin tuck maneuver may not be suitable for everyone, and its effectiveness can vary based on the individual’s specific needs. Please consult with a SLP or healthcare professional to determine if the chin tuck maneuver is appropriate for you.

4. Use Adaptive Equipment:

Consider using adaptive utensils, plate, or cups specifically designed for individuals facing swallowing difficulties. An example of an adaptive drinking tool is the ‘Nosey Cup.’ When using a standard cup, the nose can obstruct the drinking process, necessitating the individual to tilt their head back. For those with dysphagia, drinking from a regular cup may lead to aspiration. The unique shape of the Nosey Cup prevents the nose from interfering with the cup, eliminating the need to tilt the head back, thereby safeguarding the airway and promoting increased hydration.

All these tips can benefit individuals grappling with dysphagia; however, seeking guidance from a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) is crucial. These professionals play an essential role in managing care, ensuring safe chewing and swallowing during meals. As Virgina Woolf wisely noted, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well.” Overcoming these challenges is not just about sustaining physical health but nurturing overall well-being, emphasizing the importance of a safe and enjoyable dining experience for all.

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