How can I help a person in my care learn how to swallow a pill?

Learning to swallow pills is all about practice. Here are some helpful tips when helping someone learn to swallow a pill:

  • At first, practice with small candies that are easy to swallow. Start with small candies and progress to larger ones that are close in size to the pills the person in your care will take.
  • Set a good example. Show the person in your care how you, a family member or a friend can swallow a pill successfully.
  • Keep practice sessions under 10 minutes. This can help prevent the person in your care from feeling too tired or stressed. Keep practice sessions as relaxed, positive and fun as possible.
  • Use plenty of water or another favorite drink. Allow for big gulps.
  • Try different head positions, such as; head tilted back, slightly forward, in the center, to the left and to the right. Discover which head position suits the person in your care best. Use a straw to drink with the candy or pill already in the mouth. This can help the person in your care focus on the suction of the straw instead of the candy or pill in their mouth.
  • If the person in your care goes to school, ask the occupational therapist to add the life skill of pill swallowing to the Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

How to swallow a pill

  1. Have a few sips of a drink to moisten the mouth and throat.
  2. Place the pill into the center of the mouth. Avoid placing the pill in the back of the mouth. This can make swallowing more challenging and possibly trigger a person’s gag reflex.
  3. Take a big sip of the drink. Try using a plastic water bottle to squeeze a large gulp of water to swallow.
  4. Put the pill into the mouth. Take a big sip of drink and look at the floor. In doing this, the pill will float to the back of the mouth so it will be easier to swallow.

Which size candies can I start with?

Start small and gradually increase as tolerated.

  • Cake decorating balls or sprinkles
  • Tic-Tacs®
  • Mini M&M’s®
  • M&M’s® or Smarties®
  • Gummy bears cut into smaller pieces
  • Good & Plenty® or Mike and Ike®
Rev. 8/2018. Mass General for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions. Images courtesy of Pixabay and the Annals of Family Medicine.