Top tips - Eating out with swallowing difficulties
Having dysphagia needn’t limit anyone from eating out in restaurants or going to family gatherings. Read our top tips for how to prepare for these occassions
Part of our Top Tips series for Dysphagia management
While eating out or at a social gathering, a caregiver should plan ahead. Call the host or restaurant and explain the situation, so it is not a big deal in front of a loved one. This eliminates extra stress on both parties, and makes the outing as smooth as possible and even “normal.” Without planning, it could be a major upset if the host is not aware.
While eating out may seem simple, it can also be very time-consuming and overwhelming for someone with dysphagia. A caregiver can help by involving a loved one in the process of food preparation, or allowing them to pick where to eat and what to eat on an outing. This can help build self-esteem, and also promotes saliva flow, which may help in swallowing when it is time.
A big strategy is patience, and taking enough time when eating with a loved one. Rushing through a meal is an open invitation for aspiration or choking. Encourage a loved one to eat small amounts and, if possible, more frequent meals. Sometimes fatigue and weakness reduce swallowing ability and cause distress in a loved one.
The posture a loved one has during eating and drinking is extremely important if they suffer from dysphagia. Sitting upright will help both breathing and swallowing, as will having both feet flat on the floor. After meals, it is necessary for a caregiver to help a loved one remain upright for 30 to 45 minutes, to reduce the chances of reflux issues occurring.
A Speech and Language Therapist may recommend simple fixes such as, having a loved one lower their chin toward the chest before swallowing to reduce the chance of food going down the “wrong tube.” Also, small mouthfuls will give more control over the chewing and swallowing and reduce the possibility of the food slipping to the back of the throat before it’s properly chewed.
Sometimes a variety of “tools” may help as well, such as a special straw that prevents liquids from falling to the bottom once sucked up. Therapeutic cups are also available to take along which will aid in a loved one only receiving a small, measured amount of the drink during each swallow. A Health Care Professional can tell you whether these tools might be of use for your loved one.
While social conversation is a big part of a meal-time gathering, it can be dangerous for a loved one with dysphagia. Talking is connected with breathing, and if a person is excited to share something, it is easy for them to forget about the food or drink they need to swallow at the same time. Try to focus on eating during meal times and save stories and conversation for afterwards.
Many people find it difficult to hear, talk or implement changes to their diet or daily routines. It can be associated with a loss of freedom or enjoyment of the foods they have come to expect over the years, especially at holidays and family celebrations.
While a loved one with dysphagia may feel that they are now back to eating “baby food”, a caregiver can help overcome these negative images by reinforcing the importance of these changes. Nutrition and hydration are essential and it is important to consume them in the safest way possible, especially for someone with dysphagia, to ensure they stay healthy and able to enjoy all aspects of life!