Dysphagia and Alzheimer’s disease are often linked.1
Rosemont is dedicated to providing healthcare professionals with accurate information to aid in the management of patients with these conditions.
What is dysphagia?
Dysphagia refers to a difficulty with swallowing. People with dysphagia can find it hard to swallow certain foods and liquids or cannot swallow at all. Indications that a patient may be experiencing dysphagia include coughing or choking whilst eating, regurgitating food and weight loss. 2 For our full list of symptoms, visit our webpage: Swallowing Difficulties Symptoms
Does Alzheimer’s disease cause dysphagia?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in older people, affecting memory and cognitive abilities. The high prevalence of dysphagia among patients with dementia is a result of the neurological changes caused by the disease. The prevalence of dysphagia in moderate to severe Alzheimer’s patients is estimated to be between 84-93%. 1
What happens when Alzheimer’s disease patients can’t swallow?
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses to the later stages, dysphagia may manifest. Without appropriate interventions, this can lead to unintended weight loss, dehydration, and malnutrition. 3 Read on to learn more about how to provide support to individuals experiencing Alzheimer’s disease and dysphagia.
How do you help someone with Alzheimer’s disease?
People with Alzheimer’s may need some assistance with eating and drinking. You can help them by following these steps:
- Simplify meals
Always cut food into small pieces and encourage patients to sip from a cup, rather than drinking through a straw or taking large gulps. Serve soft foods or blend dishes.4
- Be patient
Never hurry the patient. Encourage them to take their time and make sure they swallow each mouthful before taking another bite. 4 Additionally, maintain mealtime as a distraction-free environment, for example, avoiding television or music. 5
- Choose the right time
Ensure that your patient is always sitting upright, including up to 20 minutes after eating. 4 You should serve food when they are most rested, which may mean they need to rest 30 minutes before eating. 5
- Keep good oral hygiene
Encourage your patients (or their carers) to clean their teeth twice a day and recommend that they visit the dentist regularly. 4 Painful teeth or dentures can make it difficult to chew, affecting swallowing. 5
Rosemont offers a range of oral liquid medications that might present a more manageable alternative to solid-dose medications for patients experiencing dysphagia and dementia.
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Mira A, Gonçalves R, Rodrigues IT. Dysphagia in Alzheimer's disease: a systematic review. Dement Neuropsychol. 2022 Jul-Sep;16(3):261-269. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9762388. Accessed August 2023. | 2. NHS Inform. Dysphagia (swallowing problems) Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/stomach-liver-and-gastrointestinal-tract/dysphagia-swallowing-problems/ Accessed Aug 2023. | 3. Alzheimer’s Society, ‘How physical and sensory difficulties can affect eating’, https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/eating-physical-sensory-difficulties Accessed July 2023. | 4. National Institute on Aging, ‘Caring for a Person With Late-Stage Alzheimer's Disease’, 27/05/2021, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/caring-late-stage-alzheimers-disease Accessed July 2023. | 5. WebMD, ‘Chewing and Swallowing Problems From Alzheimer’s’, 27/11/2022, https://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/chewing-swallowing-problems Accessed July 2023.