Chapter 3: Symptoms and health concerns
Difficulty swallowing at end of life – What may help
Below are some of the things healthcare providers and familes can do as swallowing becomes more difficult at end of life. Click on each for more information.
What a healthcare provider can do
They may suggest thickening fluids or offering minced foods that are easier for the person to swallow.
If the person is still eating or drinking, the healthcare provider may consult an occupational therapist or speech language pathologist who can suggest things to help with swallowing safety including help with feeding, positioning, and food or liquid textures.
Reviewing all medications might mean stopping non-essential ones when appropriate, but continuing medications used to manage symptoms. It may also include changing to alternative ways of giving medications. These may include liquid drops under the tongue, nasal sprays, injections through the skin, topical patches, or rectal suppositories.
They may provide information helping to shift the focus from eating for calories and nutrients to eating for comfort, as long as it is safe to swallow. If the person has no interest in food, then there is no benefit to the person in forcing the issue.
What families can do
If the person coughs or sputters while eating or drinking, take note of it and ask them about it. Discuss it with their healthcare provider.
When the person is eating or drinking fluids, ensure they’re sitting up as much as possible. Sometimes using extra pillows to prop them up in bed can be helpful.
If the person is not awake enough to eat or drink, they might be at increased risk of choking.
Avoid forcing foods or fluids on someone who is not hungry or thirsty.
If the person is hungry or thirsty and wants food or fluids, sometimes changing the texture can sometimes help. This might include thickening fluids or mincing foods as recommended by their healthcare provider.