Understanding the risks of choking for nursing home residents

With the holidays in full force, it’s more important than ever to remember that seniors are particularly susceptible to choking while eating and drinking. People over 65 die from choking and suffocation at a rate of eight times that of those who are younger. 

If you’re taking a loved one out of their nursing home or another care facility for a few days to celebrate the holidays with family, it’s crucial to watch what they eat at home and in restaurants. It may be wise to find out if they’ve been on a special diet and try to stick with that as closely as possible. This can help avoid choking as well as prevent gastrointestinal distress and other medical issues.

Common choking hazards

Choking hazards can include a number of everyday foods. Here are a few:

  • Meat (particularly in large pieces)
  • Popcorn
  • Peanut butter
  • Bread and cake (because they expand when eaten with a beverage)
  • Dry crackers and rice cakes
  • Large pieces of fruit
  • Fish with small bones

Other dangers have to be judged on a case-by-case basis. For example, sucking on hard candy can help produce more saliva, which older people often lack because they tend to produce less saliva as they age. This can cause their mouth to be very dry. Some medications have that effect also. But hard candy is also a choking hazard — especially in older people.

What should nursing homes do to prevent choking?

Nursing homes should take care to serve food that decreases the risk of choking. They also need to allow people long enough to consume their food safely and properly at every meal. Further, they should keep an eye out for any potentially dangerous food that’s brought in by well-meaning family and friends or left out by employees where residents can reach it. They should also all be properly trained in the Heimlich maneuver, CPR and other first-aid so that they can help someone in distress.

If a loved one in a nursing home has suffered harm due to choking or suffocation, you have every right to ask questions about how it happened, how it could have been prevented and what management is doing to prevent it from happening again. If you believe that serious negligence was involved, it may be wise to consider your legal options.