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Alzheimer Swallowing Strategies

By Julie Hampton

Alzheimer’s is a brain disorder, however, the late stages of the disease affect the entire body, including the ability to swallow. Difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, is caused by the deterioration of muscles and the swallowing reflex. due to the loss of the swallowing reflex, many Alzheimer’s victims inhale food or liquid into the lungs and develop aspiration pneumonia. The condition is serious and causes death in many Alzheimer’s victims. Swallowing difficulties cause weight loss and dehydration. Follow a variety of swallowing strategies can help an Alzheimer’s patient safely and effectively enjoy snacks and mealtime.

Positioning and Feeding

Keep a person upright in a sitting position for 30 minutes after eating or drinking. Ensure the person is comfortable in the sitting area and use cushions and devices to keep the person upright and to keep him from sliding down the chair. Position his head comfortably forward rather than leaning back. Always allow a person to feed himself, using utensils or fingers, if he is capable. A patient may start a meal feeding himself and require assistance to finish the meal. Others cannot feed themselves at all.

Foods and Liquid Types

As Alzheimer’s progresses, liquids must be thickened. Add over-the-counter thickening powders to drinks, soups and other liquids. Mix oatmeal and rice cereals to liquids such as milk to increase thickness. Add pureed fruit to juices to thicken. Add only a small amount at a time to avoid turning the liquid into a solid. Foods may need to be cut into very small pieces. Adding gravy and sauces to food increases lubrication, according to the American Health Assistance Association. As Alzheimer’s progresses into the late stages, pureed or soft food are recommended. At the end-of-life stage, the body’s systems begin to shut down and eating and drinking are no longer desired. The lack of food or liquids in the last days of life will not cause suffering during the dying process, reports


The Alzheimer’s Association suggests allowing one hour for meals. Divide large meals into small portions throughout the day. Never force a person to eat or rush meal times. The book “Late-stage Dementia Care: A Basic Guide” by Christine R. Kovach suggests implementing a start-up period at meal time. Start by feeding 1/2 tsp. initially and then increase to 1 tsp. of food.

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