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Swallowing difficulties and Dementia

Speech and Language Therapy (SaLT)

Dysphagia is a swallowing difficulty, it is very common for individuals with dementia to have difficulties with eating, drinking and swallowing.

Things are likely to get worse as the dementia progresses. There are risks associated with having dysphagia including aspiration (food going down the wrong way into the lungs), choking, poor nutrition and a reduced quality of life. Here we will look at some of the difficulties a person may have and what you could to help.

Signs a person may have a swallowing difficulty:

  • Poor lip closure and/or drooling of saliva, food or drinks
  • Taking a long time to chew food
  • Pouching food in the cheeks
  • Continual chewing without swallowing
  • A delayed swallow
  • Coughing or throat clearing when eating or drinking
  • A wet sounding voice when eating or drinking
  • Repeated chest infections
  • Weight loss
  • Not wanting to eat or drink

Remember!

Are dentures well-fitting and comfortable? If not it may be better to eat without them until the person has better ones.

Help the person with oral care if there is food residue in their mouth after eating. A toothbrush will do the job brilliantly.

Dysphagia

Dysphagia occurs when there is a problem with the control or structures involved in the swallowing process.

What might help?

  • Softer, smoother foods are easier to swallow
  • Small bites and small sips, one at a time
  • Use safe feeding techniques such as ensuring upright positioning and a slow pace of feeding
  • Make sure the person is fully awake and alert
  • Try giving verbal prompts to swallow and clear their mouth if this helps them
  • An empty spoon to their mouth can encourage them to continue with chewing and swallowing
  • Encourage them to participate as much as possible

Please remember

Each person with dementia is an individual and their difficulties will be individual. This advice is not intended to replace that of a Speech and Language Therapist.

Speech and Language Therapists are trained to assess and treat someone’s ability to swallow. They will advise on the most appropriate food and drink consistency, look at the best posture and use of other strategies to assist the swallow process.