A person with a swallowing impairment should be assessed by a speech and language therapist for accurate diagnosis and management. However, there are some general strategies and techniques that may be implemented to improve swallow safety and wellbeing in those with dysphagia.
General recommendations for those with dysphagia:
- Ensure that the person is awake and alert before offering food and drink.
- Ensure that the person is comfortable and positioned as upright as possible when eating or drinking.
- Encourage self-feeding. If independent feeding is not possible, please assist. Use hand over hand feeding to assist them to feed themselves if feasible.
- Some may benefit from assistive device(s) such as specially designed spoon or non-slip table mats to enable independent feeding.
- Make the environment quiet and free from distractions.
- Be patient, do not rush. Ensure a slow feeding rate.
- Discourage talking during feeding. Do not ask questions during meal times.
- Prompt the person to chew and swallow as needed.
- If dentures are used, ensure that they fit well.
- Make sure that the person has swallowed their first mouthful before giving the next. Allow time for a second swallow if needed. Do not force feed.
- Different/contrasting tastes and temperatures can help those with dementia or cognitive deficits who hold their food in their mouth.
- Check that their mouth is clear of food or fluid at the end of the meal. Pay particular attention to the sides, under the tongue and the roof of the mouth.
- Ensure that the entire mouth – including teeth, sides of cheek, tongue, roof of mouth and gums – is kept clean. Good oral hygiene is important in minimizing risks of chest infection from inhaling food or liquid in those with dysphagia.
Specific advice regarding dysphagia management including rehabilitation and texture modification will vary based on the individual’s condition and needs. Speak to your speech and language therapist for tailored recommendations.
Author: M Dharshini, Speech Therapist