Healthy habits and mealtime tips
Below are a few tips that may help you reduce your risk of choking while eating. It is important to ask your healthcare professionals which of these tips may be right for you, and if there are any others that may help you to swallow better.
- Eating while sitting upright and avoiding lying down while eating
- Eat when you are fully awake and alert
- Avoid distractions while you eat, such as talking or watching television, to help you concentrate on your swallowing
- If you find it difficult to keep upright while eating, put cushions around yourself to stop you from leaning over to one side
- If you find it difficult to hold your head up, try using neck cushions for help
- Avoid stretching your neck backwards while you are swallowing
- If you need help with eating, the person who is helping you should be in front of you but lower down than the seat of your chair
- Take small bites and sips, and don’t put more food in your mouth until you have swallowed the previous mouthful
- Remain upright for at least 30 minutes after eating to avoid reflux
- Try not to talk while you eat; talking opens up the airway, making it easier for you to choke
Registered dietitians are regulated healthcare professionals who are experts in nutrition. As nutrition care is a key part of living with dysphagia, dietitians are the go-to healthcare professionals for advice on how to ensure a healthy and adequate diet, especially if you require any texture changes to your food and drinks. In many cases, dietitians conduct swallowing assessments and will recommend the right texture changes for you.
Oral care is very important for people with dysphagia. People with dysphagia may be at increased risk of aspiration pneumonia. (Beijens 2016. European Society for Swallowing Disorders – European Union Geriatric Medicine Society white paper: oropharyngeal dysphagia as a geriatric syndrome. Clin Int Aging 2016:11 1403–1428) This may occur when harmful mouth bacteria is carried into the lungs along with food, drink or saliva. Keeping a clean and healthy mouth can be an important part of managing the risk of aspiration pneumonia. (Koichiro 2011) Oral care after eating or drinking can be especially important.
Dry mouth can be a concern for people with dysphagia. Dry mouth may make swallowing problems worse by making it difficult to manipulate food and drink in the mouth, and to form a bolus. It may lead to a number of oral health problems such as gum disease, tooth decay, and infections (Ouanounou A. Compend Contin Educ Dent. 2016 May;37(5):306-311)This is because saliva has a role in keeping your mouth clean and healthy. Ask your healthcare professional about using mouth-lubricating products, such as artificial saliva.
Advice for caregivers and friends
When your friend or a loved one has dysphagia, it’s normal to want to do everything you can to help. There are many things you can do to help, such as:
- Keeping track of medications and medical appointments
- Writing a list of questions and taking notes during your visits with healthcare professionals
- Watching for signs of changes in mood or health, and raising any concerns with the person’s healthcare professional
- Learn about dysphagia, so you can help your friend or loved one identify any signs of swallowing problems or changes in condition
Taking care of someone with dysphagia can be physically and emotionally demanding for the caregiver. This is why it’s so important for the caregivers and friends of those living with dysphagia to also take care of themselves, and to reach out for help if the demands and stress are too much.
It may be a good idea to share your feelings with someone you trust or another caregiver who may understand and share in your challenges. Take care of your physical health. Eat healthy and nutritious foods, and try to be physically active most days of the week.
Try to have daily conversations about a topic that is not related to dysphagia or the condition that caused it. Keep up with current events and local news to broaden your outlook and keep the conversations going.