Seniors choking while eating is common because the swallowing function can deteriorate with age. There is a loss of muscle strength in the mouth and throat, and through age or medication usage, many seniors have less saliva, and their mouth and throat are less moist.

A family caregiver relayed this story to us about how she was eating dinner with her senior mother living in Palos Verdes, when her mother started to cough because her food had “gone down the wrong pipe”. Thank goodness, her mother was able to clear the food and she was fine after that.

The next time the caregiver and her senior mother visited the doctor, they asked if there was anything to help prevent a recurrence of this since the incident shook them both up. Aspiration pneumonia is a complication that may be induced by choking.

Along with some food selection and preparation suggestions, the following tips were shared to help seniors prevent choking while eating:

  • Environment: be sure eating area has adequate lighting and is free from distractions (e.g., television on) to enhance the senior’s focus on eating.
  • Chew food well.
  • Take small bites – Use smaller spoons to control portion size of each mouthful — only 1/2 to 1 teaspoon at a time.
  • Chin tuck – Turn head down, tucking the chin toward the chest, and bending the body forward when swallowing food. This often provides greater swallowing ease and tilts the epiglottis (the hinge like flap at the base of your tongue that keeps food from entering your windpipe) backward and prevents food from entering the airway.
  • Sit up straight while eating. Do not eat lying down.
  • Eat slowly. Do not rush.
  • Don’t talk while eating. Talking may cause the epiglottis to open vs. close and accept food vs. air.
  • Do not drink liquids while eating. You may alternate between eating and drinking – using small sips at a time.

If your senior parent continues to experience choking while eating, you may want to consider having the elder’s chewing and swallowing capabilities assessed. Engage appropriate assistance if needed.

Need help with caring for your senior parent in Palos Verdes, Torrance or the surrounding South Bay communities? Please call A Peaceful Way Home Care at (310) 377-3776 to schedule a free in-home assessment.