Older adults have a higher propensity to choking while eating due to reduced swallowing function. This is dangerous for them as these accidents unfortunately can sometimes end up being fatal. As such, it is important to know how to reduce choking risk in your loved ones. Here is everything you need to know about choking risks and what you can do to prevent them.
Why Older Adults have Higher Risk of Choking
The increased risk of choking is due to many reasons. Reduced muscle strength in the mouth and throat is something that comes with age or medication usage. This causes reduced swallowing function. Many older adults have less saliva and drier throats that make swallowing more difficult, while some people do not chew well due to loose teeth.
There are some common choking hazards to avoid.
- Water: The fluid is so thin many older adults choke on it. Retirement communities add thickening agents to water to prevent choking.
- Hard Candy: Some people eat hard candy to increase saliva flow but it is a choking hazard.
- Bread: When consumed with water, it causes the bread to expand and block the airway.
- Big Pieces of Meat/Meat with Bones
- Big Chunks of Fruit: Fruits that are hard like apples and pineapples should be peeled and cut into small bites that are easy to chew and ingest.
Tips to Prevent Choking
- Chew Food Thoroughly: Take small bites and chew your food into small pieces before swallowing. Some older adults eat without dentures and swallow food whole which poses a huge risk of choking.
- Do Not Rush Through Your Food: Eating too quickly means that you don’t have the time to chew properly before swallowing.
- Sit Up Straight: You should not eat while lying down.
- Chin Tuck: When chewing, keep your head down with your chin tucked inward towards your chest. Next, when swallowing food, lean your body forward. Doing so will make swallowing easier and causes the epiglottis to tilt backward, blocking the airway and preventing food from entering it.
- Be Free From Distractions: Do not talk while eating as talking causes the epiglottis to open and your food might go down the wrong pipe. Keep the television off as well so that you can focus on your food.
- Do Not Drink Fluids While Eating: Although many do this to help the food go down better, it can lead to choking. If you really need to, alternate between mouthfuls of food and drinking fluids, taking only small sips when doing so.
After implementing these tips, take some time to evaluate the situation and make the necessary dietary changes and amendments to dining habits according to your or your loved one’s individual situation. You should notice a reduction in choking during mealtimes. However, if you or your loved one still often has choking accidents even after making the above changes, it might be time to consider assisted living instead, where professional, 24/7 care can be rendered and more effectively prevent such incidents.