As people age, they tend to develop challenges with swallowing. Research has shown that issues with swallowing can occur even in elderly people with no serious medical conditions. Presbyphagia is a term that refers to these swallowing problems that come with aging.
In nursing homes, the potential for injuries is significant among patients by default. Elderly people in nursing homes are going to be prone to disease and injury—like with swallowing problems and choking—in many instances. Nursing home staff should be carefully trained to anticipate such problems and ideally to prevent them whenever possible.
Whether you have a parent in a nursing home, you are a patient in a nursing home, or you are a nursing home staff member, it is important to be aware of swallowing issues in the elderly and the necessity of preventing choking accidents resulting from such issues.
What Causes Choking Accidents in Nursing Homes?
Given the increased risk of choking accidents in elderly patients due to swallowing difficulties, you would assume that nursing homes would be careful to avoid risks of choking. But while many nursing homes offer high-quality care for patients, there are plenty of other nursing homes that are understaffed and may not have properly trained staff.
The main cause of choking accidents in nursing homes is the lack of attention to patients with swallowing problems. If a patient has trouble swallowing but is left to eat on his or her own, or is given foods that are more difficult to swallow, the likelihood of a choking accident increases. Many choking accidents in elder care facilities are the result of a lack of oversight and attention to patients who are at higher risk of choking.
Lessening the Risk of Choking Accidents in Nursing Homes
Choking accidents can largely be avoided by taking the following steps:
- Identify all patients with swallowing problems. Most patients with swallowing problems will be easy to identify with a little personal attention. Hopefully, those with known swallowing problems will identify themselves to nursing home staff. But even if they say nothing about the problem, nursing home staff can quickly notice when patients struggle to swallow normal food and drink. If a problem is suspected, consult with the patient’s doctor to get more detailed information about the issue.
- Create personalized plans to help patients with swallowing issues avoid choking.When you find a patient with swallowing trouble, it is important to personalize the way you serve the patient food and drink. The diet of the patient may need to be altered to account for the swallowing difficulties, such as offering different foods or thickening drinks to aid in the perception of the need to swallow when drinking. Patients may need to be monitored while eating and drinking to ensure that they can get adequate nutrition without the risk of choking.
- Ensure that you have adequate staff with proper training to observe and help these patients. The patients who are at risk of choking accidents need to be cared for properly, which may mean that more staff will be needed or that current staff will need to receive additional training. Staff can be trained to better recognize the signs of choking. No one wants a patient to choke and possibly die when it would have been easily preventable with proper oversite. If your family member is not getting adequate care for swallowing issues, you should definitely speak with management and if necessary change nursing homes.
- Have emergency protocols in place. Even with the best care, some patients may still suffer from choking accidents. You need a plan in place for how to address such accidents so that everyone knows what to do beforehand. Many choking accidents do not have to be fatal as long as the nursing team has proper training and knows how to address the crisis. For families of nursing home patients, it is also important to know how to deal with a choking accident.
- NCBI – Dysphagia in the Elderly
- NCBI – Swallowing disorders in nursing home residents: how can the problem be explained?
- UMASS Medical School – Dysphagia, Aspiration, and Choking