Tips for people experiencing difficulties swallowing pills

by John Eshan

Approximately 40% of adults have difficulty swallowing pills. Gagging, a lingering aftertaste from an incomplete swallow, and a pill becoming lodged in the throat are all common complaints. These issues may be exacerbated in seniors who have Parkinson’s disease (PD), Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia, or stroke, all of which can impair one’s ability to swallow.

Take a look at these pill-swallowing tips.

Cut & Crushed pills

Some pills can be cut into smaller, more manageable pieces or crushed (for example, with a silent knight pill crusher) and mixed into food or drinks. Whether crushed or not, soft yet thick foods like yogurt, pudding, and apple sauce are commonly used to facilitate medication administration.

Liquid Medication

Certain medications are available in liquid form. Drug compounding services are a valuable resource for seniors who require their prescriptions to be prepared in liquid form. However, liquid medications are not always a panacea.

Many people with moderate to severe dysphagia (who cannot swallow pills) must use food and beverage thickeners to eat and drink safely and avoid aspiration. Taking medications with these thickeners can affect how they are absorbed by the body in some cases.

The Pop-Bottle Technique (For Tablets)

  1. Fill a plastic water bottle with water that is flexible enough to squeeze in when you drink from it.
  2. Close your lips tightly around the mouth of the bottle and place the tablet on your tongue.
  3. Purse your lips and sucking in water from the bottle. Keep your lips completely covering the mouth of the bottle and don’t let any air into it. As you drink, you should notice the bottle bending inward.
  4. Swallow the pill with the water right away.

Sucking on a water bottle stimulates your swallowing reflex, allowing you to overcome the gag reflex that occurs when attempting to swallow a large tablet.

The Lean-Forward Technique (For Capsules)

  1. Pour water into a glass, cup, or bottle.
  2. Put the capsule under your tongue.
  3. Take a medium drink of water, but don’t swallow it.
  4. Close your mouth and lower your chin to your chest.
  5. Swallow both the water and the capsule in your mouth while keeping your chin and head down.

Most capsules float, making them difficult to swallow in the traditional manner with your head in a neutral or backwards position. Tilting your head forward while drinking water helps position the floating capsule at the back of your mouth, allowing it to slide more easily down your throat.

After all these attempts, if the swallowing problem persists, ask your pharmacist if:

  • your medication is available in another form (e.g., a liquid, a chewable tablet, a suppository, or an injectable dose)
  • a preparation can be made especially for you
  • the medication can be crushed or cut.
  • Another medicine that is easier to swallow is available.

If you have trouble taking your medication, talk to your pharmacist, your doctor, and they will find a good solution for you.

Hope you will find a tip that fits your needs.

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