As children, we are taught that chicken soup will make us well, but when someone has trouble swallowing, eating or drinking can become dangerous. It is known medically as dysphagia when a person has difficulty swallowing. Aspiration pneumonia can be caused not just by choking, but by liquids or food particles sliding down the windpipe and infecting the lungs.

When a loved one has difficulty swallowing, avoiding these dangers can prove challenging, but there are some ways to make it easier and more enjoyable.

Creating the right environment is essential. 

When it comes to eating, prepare ahead of time for someone who has difficulty swallowing. Disconnect from television and focus on food. Encourage your loved one to sit upright while eating. Give them enough time to chew and swallow. Pay attention to your loved ones as they eat. When it’s time for them to bite or sip, make eye contact and open and close your mouth. You should be especially aware if your loved one appears to be choking or retaining food in their mouth.

Learn what foods they like.

Before becoming ill, your loved one enjoyed a wide variety of foods. With fewer options, it may be useful to explore new ways to enjoy the flavours that your loved one enjoys as well as to try new flavours. Consider foods with thicker sauces. This will make swallowing easier.

When swallowing is difficult, the following foods can be eaten:

  • Custards, puddings, and yoghurt
  • Fruits that have been purified
  • Bread that is puréed
  • Meats that have been purified
  • Purified vegetables
  • Pureed soup

Butter, milk, cream, sour cream, honey, and jelly can be added to these foods to add calories. Protein can be added to recipes by substituting milk for water and by making smoothies with yoghurt or peanut butter. Dry foods, particularly those containing crumbs, such as non-pureed bread, pastries, and non-pureed meats or beans, should be avoided. Be particularly careful with foods that have a mixture of textures.

Add thickening agents. 

Many favourite foods can be pureed or chopped into small pieces for people with difficulty swallowing, but liquids are a different matter. Thicker liquids pass down the throat more slowly, preventing aspiration. Thicken soups naturally with powdered mashed potatoes or gelatin.

It is good to keep a food journal to keep track of foods and recipes that work for you. Keeping track of what your loved one ate at each meal can also be helpful. A couple of small meals throughout the day is usually easier than just one or two big meals.