Tips to Make Medications Easier to Swallow
For many people, the saying, "That's a hard pill to swallow" is all too real. Research suggests that somewhere around 30 percent of people have trouble with this. Sometimes it's because of the medications themselves and sometimes it's a byproduct of an underlying condition or a natural part of aging. No matter what's causing the difficulty, this makes it harder for caregivers to do their job. Luckily, these tips can make swallowing medications easier.
Research has found that a subtle change in the position of the head can help with swallowing. This method has improved swallowing by 89 percent compared to trying to take medication with your head upright. This works because most capsules and tablets float, which is why they can be tricky to swallow with your head in its normal position. By leaning forward with water in your mouth, the medication floats toward the back of your mouth where it's perfectly positioned to swallow.
To try this with your loved one, have the person taking the pill put the medication on their tongue and take a sip of water, holding it in their mouth. Have them lean their head forward a little, tipping their chin down slightly before swallowing the medication.
The Pop-Bottle Method
According to Harvard Health Publishing, a study of 140 people who had difficulty swallowing medication tried the pop-bottle method with their eyes closed. They were also tasked with swallowing large pills. The results? The pop-bottle method improved swallowing by 60 percent. It works because it helps activate your swallowing reflex. In turn, this balances out the gag reflex that often prevents you from swallowing larger medications.
To try this with your loved one, start by filling a soda or water bottle with water. Have your loved one put the medication on their tongue and put their mouth around the opening of the bottle. Have them take a drink of water while keeping their lips around the bottle and sucking the water out while swallowing.
Just Add Sauce
Sometimes, putting whole pills into a thickened liquid like applesauce or pudding can make it easier to get them down. The texture might make it easier to swallow. If your loved one's doctor or pharmacist approves, try using a pill splitter and cutting the medication in half or quarters and slipping the pieces into the applesauce or pudding. Give it to your loved one with one small piece on each spoonful.
Don't take it upon yourself to crush pills or open capsules. There are some that shouldn't be taken this way. Check with your loved one's doctor or a pharmacist first. If you get the green light, crush the pill and add it to applesauce. If the pill can't be crushed, the pharmacist or doctor may be able to recommend an alternative. For example, some medications have liquid options.
Reevaluate Its Need
Some of the largest tablets and capsules that many people take are optional supplements and vitamins. Depending on how important the pill is that's creating swallowing problems, you might consider the benefit of the pill versus the potential choking risk it poses. If it's not something that you can change, spraying hard to swallow pills with an over-the-counter flavored spray can help prevent the sensation of a pill getting stuck in the throat.
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Godman, Heidi (2020). health.harvard.edu, Two tricks to make it easier to swallow pills. [online] Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/two-tricks-make-easier-swallow-pills-201411137515 [Accessed 5 Dec. 2022].
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