If any swallowing issues develop, or even if you suspect them, always seek the expertise of a speech-language therapist or specialist. Improper swallowing can lead to aspiration, where material goes into the lungs instead of the stomach. In addition to choking risks, this can cause life-threatening pneumonia.
In a detailed article on using thickeners, Author Howard Rosenberg wisely states that “taste, texture presentation, independence, and dignity play” a significant role in successful and enjoyable eating. As a Director of Dining services at a New York City care home, he has a great amount of experience to draw from.
There may be ways to improve the eating experience, and achieve better hydration and nutrition, for your loved one. Thickened fluids may take some getting used to, so starting with flavours that aren’t so odd to have in a thicker form may help with the change. For example, you could start with fruit juices which would be more like a smoothie, rather than coffee or tea, although those can be successfully thickened as well.
If others will be sharing a mealtime, serving the modified food at the same time that others get their meals will make things less obvious. This can also reduce potential embarrassment, and can help appetite by sharing aromas with the other foods.
Keep serving sizes a bit smaller can make drinks less heavy to lift, and plates easier to reposition. More frequent, smaller meals and snacks will likely work better than trying to maintain single, fixed mealtimes. This can help promote hydration and nutrition throughout the day.
Having snacks or micro-meals also may allow favourite foods to be given more frequently, and can also allow high-calorie or high-fibre foods to be integrated more easily. This can be critical to digestive success, and to avoid weight-loss that often accompanies eating difficulties.
There are differing levels of thickening, typically categorized as thin, nectar-like, honey-like or spoon-thick. The differing levels of thickness is achieved by using thickeners, processing, or by adding another ingredient to get to the appropriate consistency. Gels and powders are commonly used for thickening, but have different properties and some will continue to get thicker after the initial mixing, while others will stay consistent.
Always consult with a professional. You can also learn more in this AgingCare article, Swallowing Disorders: Tips for Using Food and Beverage Thickeners
Strength to all! Timothy Hudson