Quick Facts

  • Swallowing and chewing difficulties are referred to as “dysphasia”
  • Very common immediately following a severe brain injury
  • If the condition persists it may require long term management

What does it
look like?

  • Coughing, choking, drooling
  • Shortness of breath and/or breathing difficulties during the meal
  • Not finishing meals and eating very slowly
  • A hoarse or “gurgly” sounding voice
  • Holding food or fluid in the mouth (i.e. pooling)
  • Pocketing of food in the mouth (especially on the weaker side)

Possible Causes and Complications

Possible causes:

  • Injury to nerves and muscles of the head, face and neck
  • Injury to some areas of the brain, such as the brain stem or primary motor cortex

Possible complications:

  • May lead to malnutrition and dehydration due to lack of food and fluid
  • Food may get caught in the throat or enter air passage (aspiration)
  • Chest infections can occur and lead to aspiration pneumonia
  • Difficulty taking medications
  • Quality of life can be impacted due to lack of enjoyment of meals and social gatherings

What can we do?

  • Ensure your loved one is not eating alone, is in a comfortable setting, and is alert
  • Make food as appetizing as possible to trigger the production of saliva
  • Involve your loved one in food preparation to promote saliva and enthusiasm for eating
  • Proper positioning is essential
  • Place utensils on individual’s stronger side and within reach
  • Ensure the correct diet textures as recommended by a health care provider
    • Type of liquid: thickened or thin
    • Type of solid: pureed, minced, soft, regular
  • Present food to the individual slowly rather than all at once
  • Allow time in between bites of food
  • Check for pocketing and residue after feeding (especially in the individual’s cheeks)
  • Remain upright for 30 minutes after a meal
  • Encourage brushing and flossing after each meal and especially in the evening before bed
  • Add vitamins and nutrients to foods
  • Use specialized equipment (i.e. one-way straw for drinking)
  • Ensure good oral hygiene and maintain moisture by using swabs and petroleum jelly

Disclaimer: This information is not meant to replace advice from a medical doctor. Consult a health care provider regarding specific medical concerns or treatment.