swallowing difficulty

Swallowing Difficulties and Holiday Meals

Does someone in your household or extended family have difficulty swallowing or chewing?

If so, part of planning your holiday dinner should be a few moments to  consider how to best avoid  a choking incident at the  table for this diner.

First, think about the menu for the dinner

Does it include soft, moist foods that can be easily chewed and swallowed?   Avoid crumbly, crisp, or hard breads, crusts or other foods that would require lots of chewing.

Suggestions: mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, bite-size white meat pieces of turkey,  macaroni,  boiled carrots, broccoli or cauliflower  in small slices,  pudding,  jello, custard,  pumpkin filling, cream fillings.

Would someone have difficulty slicing the food or using a fork?

Suggestions: It is possible to serve the foods already cut in small bite-size sizes or to have knives available to cut the foods after serving. Assistance in slicing the foods may be necessary.  Use spoons with small serving sizes to control the size of liquid foods and soft foods.  Using a Spork, that combination fork and spoon utensil, can be helpful to some diners who lack coordination.

Does a diner have difficulty swallowing?

Suggestions:  Often, people who have had a stroke or who have Parkinson’s have problems swallowing.  Such people should have access to a glass of water so they can sip between bites of food. Depending on other conditions the person may have, it might be best to limit caffeine in coffee, tea or soft drinks.  Sip, swallow, small bite, sip, swallow is the routine that should be followed.

Does a diner have coordination difficulties when eating?

Suggestions: Some diners may be somewhat messy when eating. Of course, a caregiver should make sure that the diner is wearing his dentures and is ready to do his best at the task of eating in front of others. Rather than embarrassing the adult diner with a bib or a pile of napkins by the plate, why not suggest they wear a garment which could disguise spills and drops?   For ladies, a dark print apron over her blouse could be easily changed.  For gentlemen or ladies, a vest over the shirt or blouse could provide cover from spills and be easily changed after dinner.

Does the diner experience hearing impairment, distractability, or confusion?

Suggestions: Some persons may have trouble concentrating on the task of eating in a dining room that is crowded with noisy relatives, a blaring TV, or other distractions. Let the person who has swallowing difficulty have extra time to eat, with supervision as needed. Let him eat with adults who will not interrupt his concentration on the task of chewing and swallowing safely.  Perhaps that person could start eating before the crowd arrives, then spend time chatting with others while they eat.

For more suggestions about eating, swallowing and chewing, view/print this free publication  “Mealtime and Swallowing”  provided by the

National Parkinson Foundation.

Though the advice is particularly for the Parkinson patient, the information can be useful to many people.

-Finally, learn the Heimlich Maneuver,  the best first-aid emergency method for treating choking.  You can find the steps online in videos and you can be trained by the American Heart Association online and in person.

Plan ahead to make holiday meals enjoyable and safe for every diner!


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