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How To Help Elderly Swallow Pills (Easy Tricks)

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A very common issue with elderly adults (and many age groups) is swallowing pills. I personally have a lot of problems swallowing pills so I do my best to get what I need in liquid or capsule form – which for some reason seem to be easier for me.

Results of a first-ever nationwide survey of adults on pill-swallowing difficulties, conducted by Harris Interactive, reveal that a large percentage (40%) of American adults have experienced difficulty swallowing pills, even though most have had no problems swallowing food or liquid. Of those who experience difficulty swallowing their medications, 14 percent have delayed taking doses of their medication, 8 percent have skipped a dose and 4 percent have discontinued using their medication.

So I got to thinking that there may be some tricks that I can share about how to make this easier for seniors and their caregivers.

But before we get to the tips – make sure to check with your doctor and/or pharmacist about any limitations such as…

  • Pills that cannot be taken with food
  • Some pills should not be crushed or cut
  • Some medications can be switched to liquid form so make sure to ask if that’s possible
  • If there is a medical condition that is making swallowing pills difficult
  • If there is a psychological condition that may be making it difficult to swallow pills

Tips For Swallowing Pills

Here are some great tips that just may help to make it easier for seniors to swallow pills.

From researchers at the University of Heidelberg who came up with these two effective techniques.

The Pop Bottle Method

  1. Fill a plastic water bottle with water. Make sure the plastic is soft enough to squeeze it.
  2. Put the pill on your tongue.
  3. Close your lips tightly around the mouth of the water bottle.
  4. Drink from the bottle, keeping your lips tightly around the mouth of the bottle.

You should be able to swallow the pill immediately as you are drinking.

The Lean Forward Method (use this with capsules)

  1. Fill a glass with water.
  2. Put the capsule on your tongue.
  3. Take a gulp of water (not too much, not too little) but do not swallow it.
  4. Close your mouth and tip your chin down towards your chest and keep it there.
  5. Swallow both the water and capsule while in this position.

Nearly 97 percent of people who tried the lean-forward technique for capsules said the strategy was helpful, while 88.5 percent of people who used the pop-bottle technique with tablets said the same.

You can read more about about the research and why these two techniques worked here.

Some other ideas that might help:

  1. Hide a pill in soft food like applesauce or pudding or yogurt or even ice cream. If that is still too difficult you can grind the pill into a powder and then add it to any of these items. NOTE: Check with the pharmacist first before cutting or grinding any medication.
  2. Some people enjoy taking their pill with a spoonful of jelly or jam.
  3. If your senior loved one enjoys peanut butter or cream cheese sandwiches you can try hiding the pills in there.
  4. If capsules are easier to swallow than pills and the pills are small enough you can try inserting a pill or two inside a vegan capsule (you can purchase them here).
  5. You can try putting the pill in your mouth and then drinking water from a straw.
  6. My late husband used to take a gulp of water, but wouldn’t swallow it. He would then put his head back as if he was going to gargle and then he would open his mouth and drop the pill or pills in his mouth and swallow. I found this very difficult but it may work for you.
  7. Some folks find that if they cover their pills with butter or their favorite sauce they are able to swallow them easier.
  8. It may be helpful to cut a banana into thick slices and then insert a pill into the banana slice.

I hope that at least one of these ideas can help you and your senior loved ones to make swallowing their pills much easier.

But, if any of these still do not work and you’re having a great deal of difficulty getting your senior loved one to swallow their medications then I urge you to contact your physician.

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