How To Thicken Liquids For The Elderly

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Nearly 27% above the age of 76 face difficulty in swallowing food. This article talks about how to thicken liquids for the elderly so that they can 

Eating and drinking keep us alive and healthy. However, nearly more than 27% of people[1] above the age of 76 struggle with the natural process of even swallowing down eatables. 

It is needless to say, what would happen if you cannot swallow your food or drink? People suffering from dysphagia can relate to the term. Most people are not able to recognize the symptoms until the condition gets too bad. If you ignore your swallowing problems, you may have to encounter challenges of dysphagia, aspiration pneumonia, or other complications.  


How To Thicken Liquids For The Elderly


Do you tend to cough every time you eat or drink something? If that sounds familiar, you could be on the verge of suffering from dysphagia. In layman’s terms, you may be showing signs of swallowing difficulties

The problem can become severe, and the risk of choking and breathing difficulties may be life-threatening. These are medical problems related to the pharynx, larynx, or esophagus. Though there is no single reason behind dysphagia, you can blame your growing age or weakening of your pharynx and larynx muscles and nerves. 

What Is Dysphagia Or Swallowing Disorder?

Numerous health issues and weaknesses accompany aging. However, the most frustrating medical problem is the inability to drink and eat food as a natural process. When older adults cannot consume their daily nutrition normally, their immune systems can become weak, and they can become prone to other medical complications. 

If you tend to make a conscious effort to swallow down your food or drink, you could be suffering from dysphagia. Your condition may worsen when your chewed food cannot flow down from the food pipe naturally. You could end up choking, gagging, or coughing every time you drink something. 


How To Thicken Liquids For The Elderly


The obstruction could lead to breathing emergencies, chest and lung infections that would require immediate medical help. Medical professionals comprehend several factors responsible for dysphagia. The weakened esophagus interferes with swallowing. When mealtimes become a struggle, the patient may lose interest in maintaining a balanced diet. Such conditions would lead to deteriorating health and other complications, as listed below.

  • Malnutrition
  • Aspiration Pneumonia
  • Frequent Pneumonia
  • Silent Aspiration
  • Weight Loss
  • Dehydration
  • Weakness
  • Breathing Difficulties
  • Lung Infection
  • Chest Infection
  • Recurrent Heartburns
  • Others


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Is Dysphagia Curable? What Is the Prevention of Dysphagia or Swallowing Disorder?

After a thorough diagnosis, medical professionals may prescribe swallowing therapy and speech therapy and suggest a diet change. Since there are no permanent solutions, specific therapies and learning new techniques for swallowing can provide relief to a certain degree.

In cases such as dehydration, malnutrition, or pneumonia, doctors may suggest nasogastric tubes for feeding the patient.

Severe cases may require surgical implantation of an artificial food pipe or tube that allows liquid and semi-solids to flow down directly into the stomach without hindrance. If surgical treatments sound complicated, you can choose to thicken liquid for the elderly suffering from swallowing disorders.

What is the Role of Liquid Thickeners for Dysphagia and Other Swallowing Disorders?

Though no medication can cure dysphagia, a Liquid Thickener can help you significantly. Medical professionals concur that people with such conditions can witness significant improvement in their health by availing liquid thickeners. 

Liquid thickeners for the elderly will not make you choke or cough every time you swallow them down. Its texture and opacity will allow fluids to slip down the esophagus without obstruction. It is imperative to prevent the risk of dehydration, weight loss, weakness, aspiration, and malnourishment. 


How To Thicken Liquids For The Elderly


Alternatively, people suffering from swallowing disorders can opt for a dysphagia diet or make changes in their eating style. However, liquid thickeners are more favorable as they find positive outcomes by encouraging them to enjoy their mealtimes. 

Moreover, you will enjoy minimum dependency upon others and enjoy the freedom to eat or drink without any attachments. People with tooth loss, dementia, or under sedation can also take advantage of liquid thickener to maintain good health


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What Are the Types of Thicken Liquids for the Elderly?

Based on your medical condition, you can choose from a range of liquid thickeners available for you. You can relish the thickened texture in the level of consistency that you prefer. They are –

Nectar Thick

The term ‘Nectar Thick’ is mildly thick as a fruit juice. After blending the liquid thickener, your beverage would be thicker than water but thinner than the consistency of honey or cream. You can conveniently sip your thickened beverage using a straw. Buttermilk, fruit juices, etc., can give you an idea of the density of your liquid. 

Honey Thick

The moderately thick consistency is similar to that of a milkshake or a bowl of soup. You cannot suck honey-thick consistency using a straw as it is not free-flowing like a nectar-thick fluid. Tomato sauce or ketchup is a perfect example of the density of the fluid you should expect.


How To Thicken Liquids For The Elderly


Pudding Thick

The consistency of the pudding-thick liquid is so thick that you would need a spoon to consume it. The thickness is equivalent to a pudding, mousse, or jelly. Doctors recommend pudding thickness to patients with severe dysphagia complications.


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Why Should You Opt for Commercial Thickening Products?

Providing your body with an adequate amount of fluid and food is the secret to good health. There is some really good news for people who are suffering from swallowing disorders. If you have difficulties in swallowing or sense that food is stuck in the windpipe, liquid thickeners are the best solutions. 

It enables you to maintain healthy eating and drinking habits. Using the thickener for liquids allows you to conveniently gulp down your favorite drinks. These liquid thickeners do not rob you from enjoying your juice or tea. They can be easily added to anything of your choice. 


How To Thicken Liquids For The Elderly


What’s more? The liquid thickener will not strip the taste of your beverages. They are not only an effective treatment that prevents liquids from choking your airways but retains your love for food. You can keep the child in you alive as you suck on a cool popsicle to refresh you on a hot summer afternoon. You can satisfy your craving by infusing creativity in your meal with liquid thickener and other fruity ingredients.


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How to Get the Perfect Thickness of your Beverage?

Now that you know about the three levels of consistency, you would need to brief yourself about the usage of commercial thickening products. Below is a range of liquid thickening solutions.

  • Natural liquid thickeners
  • Commercial liquid thickener products
  • Pre-made or Ready-made thickened beverages

Apart from ready-made products, some food items, such as bananas, potatoes, yogurt, flour, and sweet potatoes, act as natural thickening agents. Other thickening elements are available in the market in the form of powder or Gel. 

A visit to the pharmacy will make you familiar with gel thickeners, gum-based, or starch-based liquid thickeners. Let’s delve deeper to get acquainted with typical liquid thickeners available in the market.

Starch-Based Powder Liquid Thickener

Starch powders are primarily modified cornstarch, which gives a gritty texture and builds viscosity. They are ideal for quick-thick beverages that you wish to consume instantly.

If you choose to incorporate the starch powder into your liquid, a few pointers can make your food taste better. You should add the thickener to your drinks after it is relatively cooled down.

You can add them to your soup when it is at normal temperature. It could take approximately 30 seconds to lose its lumps and dissolve. Once they have blended well with the soup, you may reheat it at your desired temperature. 


How To Thicken Liquids For The Elderly


If you want a refreshing soda or cold drinks, you can mix liquid thickeners with them. However, sodas lose their bubbles when you add the starch powder. It would be appropriate if you consume your drink soon after mixing the powder to enjoy your preferred texture and consistency.

If you are looking for a starch-based liquid thickener, we recommend the Thick-It Original thickener. Thick-it dissolves in almost anything and mixes very quickly. It is easy to use and does not change the taste of your food. The brand has been around for close to thirty years.

Thick-It Original Food & Beverage Thickener
Easily digestible, gluten-free, fat-free, kosher and can produce any IDDSI consistency

Gum-Based Powder Liquid Thickener

You can opt for gum-based powders for liquid thickeners for convenient swallowing. The primary content of a gum-based powder is cellulose gum and maltodextrin or xanthan gum. It requires rigorous blending to get the desired results. It allows you to relish your frozen food items, such as popsicles, slush, and ice cubes for your sodas. 

You should be cautious of adding regular ice cubes to your cold drinks if you are suffering from dysphagia. Such an overall consistency alteration can pose a threat while swallowing.

You should use ice cubes made from liquid thickener to be on the safer side. Incorporating gum-based powder as your liquid thickener will not accompany the gritty texture. 


How To Thicken Liquids For The Elderly


You would not be forced to consume your food immediately after blending the powder. Even after hours, the viscosity would remain the same over time at different temperatures. If you want a lingering luxury and relaxing time with your soda, go for gum-based powder liquid thickener. 

You can slowly sip your drink without forming clumps. Gum-based powders without added flavor thickened are ideal for ice cubes, juice, or coffee since they will not alter the taste.

One of the most popular gum-based liquid thickeners is Nestle’s Resource ThickenUp Clear. It gives perfect consistency, does not create lumps, will not alter the taste of your food or drink, and is very easy to mix. Moreover, Nestle has taken care to keep the product appropriate for lactose and gluten intolerance as well as kosher and halal-friendly.  

Resource ThickenUp Clear
Gives perfect consistency which remains constant over time. Gluten and Lactose-free, as well as Kosher and Halal friendly.


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Gel and Liquid Thickeners

Similar to gum-based powder, gel liquid thickeners effortlessly dissolve into fluids. It offers a higher degree of advantage as it does not alter the taste and effect of food and drinks across a wide range of temperatures. They are effective in hard drinks, soft drinks, soda, soup, protein-rich supplement drinks. The non-lumpy texture mixes thoroughly and generates the urge to join the family at the dinner table.


How To Thicken Liquids For The Elderly


SimplyThick Easy Mix is one of the most popular Gel based liquid thickeners. Due to its gel form, it can prepare any beverage in under thirty seconds without altering the taste. It works well with a wide variety of liquids, applies similarly to every beverage (no need to keep checking your mixing chart), and can be prepared for any IDDSI compliant thickness consistency.

SimplyThick Easy Mix
Prepares any beverage in under thirty seconds with IDDSI compliant thickness and applies consistently across all beverages.

Pre-Mixed Thickened Beverages

Pre-mixed thickened beverages are portable and convenient to carry when you are traveling. They are no-mess and no-fuss pre-prepared food items. These traveling packs offer you water, juice, tea, coffee, soups, and other pureed food products. 

They are available at your desired thickness, whether you want nectar thin, honey-thick, or spoon-thick food products. However, if you want personalized thickened liquid, powder or Gel should be your most preferred choice. 

On the flip side, ready-to-go thickened beverages are a little on the higher side in terms of price. Pre-mixed liquid thickener offers unparalleled convenience and freedom. Moreover, it saves time, and you always remain hydrated.


How To Thicken Liquids For The Elderly


Thick-It Clear Advantage Thickened Beverages, including juices and beverages of many types, is a popular choice for pre-mixed options. You can get flavors such as cranberry juice, apple juice, orange juice, decaf and regular coffee, decaf black tea, and even thickened water. The drinks are provided in to-go bottles and are low on sodium and corn syrup. The bottles are resealable for multiple uses. 

Thick-It Clear Advantage Thickened Beverages
Tasty and easy to use in resealable, to-go bottles. Low on corn syrup or sodium.


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How to Use Liquid Thickeners?

You probably cannot control the speed at which liquids glide down your throat, but you can alter the thickness as per your convenience for the sake of your health. Fluids without viscosity run freely down the food pipe. 

Thicken liquids have a higher density than a watery substance. Its speed of flowing down is relatively slow and is a safer swallowing option if you are diagnosed with dysphagia. 

Depending upon the substance you choose – powder, gum, or Gel, you need to follow the guidelines suggested by the particular product. However, here is an outline of how to prepare a thickened liquid.


How To Thicken Liquids For The Elderly


  • You would need to measure the liquid, such as juice, tea, soup, broth, etc.
  • You can get the perfect density of your fluids if you follow the instructions on the product’s label by determining the accurate proportion of scoops.
  • Submerging the scoop into the liquid may form lumps. You will enjoy the best result if you sprinkle the substance evenly in your drink.
  • Stir vigorously for 30 seconds to avoid the formation of clumps. You can make use of a whisk or fork for better results. Keep stirring until the formula is completely dissolved in the liquid.

What Would Be the Outcomes of Not Availing Thicken Liquids?

Would it sensible to blindly believe that all therapies would be successful? Even if dysphagia treatments and therapies give positive results, how long would you have to wait for the therapies to start showing their effectiveness? 

You cannot wait indefinitely to consume your food and drinks. Thus, thicken liquids for the elderly is the most viable option to stay healthy. You can count on thickening liquids to act as your savior from dysphagia, aspiration pneumonia, etc.


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Making dietary adjustments without liquid thickeners for the elderly could be one of your options. Alternatively, you can use a liquid thickener to raise the density of almost everything. 

Whether it is your protein shake or an alcoholic beverage, thick liquids have come to your rescue. If you follow the guidelines of thickening, you can live your life without restriction and enjoy savory delights. 


How To Thicken Liquids For The Elderly


Liquids thicker can significantly minimize the risk of dysphagia, aspiration pneumonia and aid in effortless swallowing. 

I have shared some product recommendations for you, in case you are looking for various types of liquid thickeners as well. I hope you will be able to make use of them.

Do leave us your comments and suggestions!

While we make every effort to provide updated and correct information, the advice given in this article and website should not be construed as “medical advice.” Please consult with your physician or medical practitioner before using any liquid thickeners. Each individual may have his or her unique issues, and your medical practitioner is the best person to decide the best liquid thickener for your case.



[1] Dysphagia: A Geriatric Giant? | Insight Medical Publishing