Swallowing difficulties are common in many conditions. If your swallowing is gradually becoming worse, discuss this with a health care professional (eg your doctor or nurse). Your food may need to be mashed or vitamised, and drinks may need to be thickened.

The nurse or doctor may ask a speech pathologist for advice about your needs. Speech pathologists help plan ways in which meals and drinks can be enjoyed safely.

If you develop swallowing difficulties, it may help to:

  • eat in a quiet room with no distractions
  • take small mouthfuls and eat slowly
  • avoid talking while eating
  • make sure you have completely swallowed each mouthful before taking another
  • sit upright with the your head forward (ie not leaning back) during the meal or drink, and for at least 30 minutes afterwards.
With some conditions, such as motor neurone disease, swallowing can become dangerous. In these cases, it may be an option to be fed with a tube (eg one that goes directly into the stomach). There are benefits and risks with this type of feeding that need to be considered carefully in discussions with a health care professional.

Advice for carers

Thickening drinks and vitamising food is likely to help when an older person has swallowing difficulties. Talk to the health care professional about this because a plan for the individual will need to be developed (eg a particular degree of thickening will be recommended for drinks).

If swallowing problems develop suddenly, contact a health care professional right away.