Decreased Swallowing Reflex
As the body weakens, the swallow reflex may diminish or be lost completely. You may first notice difficulty with medications and later notice difficulty swallowing even sips of fluid. Coughing, gagging and choking are signs that food and/or fluids are not able to be safely swallowed. Continuing to try to eat or drink when the swallowing reflex is lost can result in choking or in pneumonia and respiratory distress caused by the food or fluids into the lungs.
- If able to swallow, offer small amounts of favorite foods and recognize that it may take time and energy to get the food down.
- Make note of foods that go down smoothly and those that do not.
- If limited ability to swallow, promote comfort by providing mouth care every two hours and offering ice chips or cold cloths dampened in water to provide relief from drying mouth membranes.
- If the smallest sips cause coughing, provide mouth care only with a barely dampened swab.