If you have difficulty swallowing pills, try this…

PILLS, SENIORSDo you shy away from pill-form medications and supplements? Do you find it difficult to swallow capsules no matter their size?

It’s a common concern that I hear from my patients.


Sure, it would be great if all medications and supplements simply came in liquid form, but capsules and pills are convenient, portable, and ready to take.

I don’t advise crushing pills or opening capsules, either. This can affect how the meds are absorbed therefore a quick release of the formulation can be dangerous, almost like an accidental overdose.

So what options do you have if swallowing pills is difficult? Well, you’ll be happy to know some new methods are available to make things easier.

Why is pill-swallowing a concern?

Pills, generally, are quite small in size so it seems easy to just gulp them down, right? Wrong.

For starters, the troubles may come from a fear of choking or gagging. Another reason could be a condition called dysphagia, which is difficulty and even pain when swallowing.

RELATED READING: Trouble chewing? Here’s how to enjoy food again

The Natural Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports that dysphagia occurs when the muscles in the mouth and throat used for swallowing are damaged or weakened due to Parkinson’s disease, stroke or even a head injury. Dysphagia usually occurs in older adults, but some people are born with these weakened muscles and go their entire lives with this condition.

The biggest culprit preventing seniors from taking pills is the fear of gagging, often because of a past traumatic experience. Maybe you took too large of a bite of food, or had a hard time with a certain medication. Those memories tend to stick!

Whatever the reason, help is on the way…

New methods make it easier

German researchers are to thank! With the assistance of 151 male and female volunteers, they were able to determine the two best ways to swallow pills.

Each participant was given 16 pills, varying in shape to represent a variety of medications. At first, the volunteers were advised to use their own method and rate the level of difficulty once swallowed.

Then, using only the larger pills, they tried the “pop-bottle” method: You place the pill on your tongue and close your lips around a beverage bottle. Then take a drink while continuing to keep your lips sealed around the bottle opening. Swallow the water and the pill immediately together and do not allow air to enter the bottle.

Smart! This method was successful for two-thirds of the participants.

The second method is called the “lean forward.” With this technique, you once again start with the pill on your tongue.

Take a sip of water but do not swallow. Lean your head forward and swallow in that position. Although it may seem bizarre that swallowing with your head tilted forward would work, the researchers noted that it was far more successful among their volunteers than the usual tilting your head back.

RELATED READING: Seniors, your habits may be ruining your health

Here’s to the pop-bottle and lean forward techniques!

If you’re one of those people who has difficulty with your pills, give these techniques a try for yourself.


With seniors taking so many different capsules, all sizes and shapes, the fear or inability to swallow them may be harming their health. Many seniors refuse to take their prescriptions because of the difficulty, which effects their recovery or treatments. So it’s a serious concern.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 20 to 30 percent of medication prescriptions are not filled by seniors. Also, 25 to 50 percent of seniors on medications will stop using them without being advised to do so by their doctor. This costs the American health care system  up to $289 billion annually. Being able to take medications as prescribed, for the duration of time required, can save lives and avoid unnecessary hospital visits.

If fear is your issue, you may want to pinpoint the moment it developed and look for expert help to resolve it. If there’s another medical condition that makes swallowing difficult, speak to your doctor – there may be pill alternatives available.