Health

4 Ways Thickeners Help Seniors Swallow

Many people suffer from swallowing disorders but the conditions that cause them such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, strokes, and throat cancer are predominantly found in the elderly.  This can cause serious health problems as a patient who is unable to swallow properly is at risk of their food or drink entering their windpipe.  If this happens frequently, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death.

To combat this problem, thickeners are often added to the drink of a sufferer.  It is more effective in drinks as foods can be thickened in other ways such as the addition of flour or powdered potato.  To understand the thought process behind this solution, here are some ways thickeners help seniors swallow.

Consistency

The thickening agent can be added to a standard drink to thicken the consistency so that it is less likely to cause the sufferer problems.  There are three main consistencies.  The first stage can be drunk with a straw, the second can be drunk with a cup, and the third requires the senior to use a spoon.  A speech and language therapist will be able to advise you on the best consistency depending on the sufferer’s needs.

A thicker consistency of fluid travels down the throat more slowly and the body is more likely to direct the thicker liquid into the stomach rather than the windpipe.

Control

It is easier for a senior to control a thicker liquid when it goes down their throat.  If they have trouble swallowing and take a mouthful of standard drink, it can travel down the throat so quickly that the muscles and nerves that control their swallowing reflex don’t have time to react.  This can lead to issues such as choking and there is more likelihood of some of the liquid entering their windpipe or lungs.

A drink that contains thickener will travel at a slower speed meaning that the senior in your care has more control over the swallowing action and more time to react. This helps their body to direct the fluid towards their stomach.

Confidence

Choking or being ill after taking a drink is not a nice experience.  Having been through it once may be enough to put the sufferer off drinking anything for a while.  This can lead to dehydration and a lack of confidence when drinking. 

If a thickener is used this often gives the senior the confidence to attempt to drink the fluid.  For some people, getting used to the sensation of drinking after an event such as a stroke is the most difficult part.  With practice, they can regain their confidence and drink enough not to suffer dehydration.

Taste

If you choose a great-tasting thickener such as those available from SimplyThick, then the senior in your care is more likely to want to drink it.

An inability to swallow can cause fear in both the patient and carer alike.  However, using thickeners helps the senior to swallow more easily.  Speak to their speech and language therapist for further advice.

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