Swallowing and chewing difficulties, also referred to as dysphagia, can be a problem for people of all ages, but tend to be most common amongst the elderly. Problems with swallowing and chewing are very common in this group, meaning that elderly people may find it more challenging to consume foods they once could.
Why might elderly people have problems chewing and swallowing?
There are a variety of reasons which could lead to long term chewing and swallowing issues. For example, neurological conditions including strokes, multiple sclerosis, dementia, motor neurone and Parkinson’s disease can all cause difficulties in muscle coordination, and therefore chewing and control of saliva. Cancers including oesophageal, throat and mouth, as well as conditions including gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and acid reflux, can lead to the narrowing and obstruction of the throat and oesophagus, making swallowing more difficult.
Dysphagia can also be a short-term problem for many elderly people, as can be caused by injuries or surgery to areas including the head, neck and chest.
Difficulties in chewing and swallowing can also develop as a result of the normal ageing process, specifically the loss of muscle tone and swallowing reflex. Problems surrounding dental health, including tooth loss, gum disease and the use of dentures, can also make eating more painful, especially foods with a tough, chewy texture.
How might chewing and swallowing problems affect elderly people?
People with dysphagia may struggle to consume liquids, many of their favourite foods and large portions of food in one sitting, and may require support at mealtimes. All of these can lead to a decrease in food intake. This can have knock-on negative health effects, potentially leading to an increased risk of dehydration, weight loss and nutrient deficiencies. In some cases, food can become stuck in the throat, leading to the blockage of air passages and choking. Food particles can also sometimes be inhaled into the lungs, leading to infections such as aspiration pneumonia.
Difficulties in chewing and swallowing can also lead to many elderly people feeling socially isolated and self-conscious, as they may find mealtimes more challenging. For example, for many elderly people with this condition, mealtimes can be stressful, time-consuming and messy. Those facing difficulties are often unable to eat the same foods as their families, and extra assistance from others may also be required, affecting their sense of independence and enjoyment of mealtimes and food.
Soft or texture-modified foods are often key to managing swallowing and chewing difficulties in the elderly, making mealtimes easier and more enjoyable. Soft foods are more easily chewed and swallowed, and therefore are more comfortable and pleasurable, for those with dysphagia. Soft foods can also be nutritionally enriched, with increased energy content and a boost of other important nutrients including protein, vitamins and minerals.
Soft foods can make it simpler for those with swallowing difficulties to meet their nutritional and energy requirements, minimising the risk of developing other diet-related health issues. Maintaining a healthy protein intake is especially important for elderly people, as their daily proteins needs are actually higher than those of younger adults.
The severity of an individual’s swallowing and chewing difficulties will determine the consistency of food suitable for them, but soft foods can easily be tailored to meet individual needs.
How to prepare pureed food for the elderly
So, what solutions are available to help the elderly enjoy their meals and eat the nutrients they need?
Preparing your own pureed food may be easier than you think. Your most important tool will be a normal household blender or food processor, including those which are handheld. Simply cut larger pieces of food into smaller pieces, then blend or food process until they’re a smooth consistency with no lumps. Depending on the flavour profile of the food you’re pureeing, it may be helpful to add liquids such as water, milk, stock, gravy or juices to get the correct thickness.
Not all foods are appropriate for pureeing though. As a rule the following foods are especially good for pureeing:
- Cooked fish, chicken and meat
- Soft dairy products such as yoghurt and cream cheese
- Cooked vegetables
- Well-cooked carbohydrate foods such as potatoes, rice and pasta
- Tinned (softened) fruits
- Ripe bananas and avocados
Convenient, nutritious soft food deliveries for the elderly
Despite being relatively simple, pureeing foods yourself can take time (especially washing up the blender or food processor after use), and pureed foods may not always be especially appetising. To overcome this, and take the work out of providing delicious food that’s safe for elderly people with mild chewing and swallowing difficulties, we’ve developed our IDDSI 7 Easy-to-Chew Birds Eye Soft Meals.
These soft meals provide all the elements of a complete main meal, i.e. protein, carbohydrate and vegetables, with tasty sauces to make the dishes extra palatable. Protein per meal varies from 16g up to 23g. We currently have 8 meals in the range, one of which is vegetarian, and all have been created from pureed food timbales which allow us to present our texture-modified food in the format of the original unpureed food, making the meal as visually appetising as possible. After all, we eat with our eyes before our mouths!
The convenience of our Birds Eye Soft Meals also extends to our delivery service. Orders are delivered on a day to suit you in as little as two days, and shipping is free on orders over £20. By making our ordering process and delivery service as simple as possible, we hope to ensure our elderly consumers are able to receive a regular supply of nutritious meals. This is especially true in current Covid-19 times, as we deliver to their door without them having to leave the house.