Parkinson’s Care: Managing Swallowing Complications

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A Parkinson’s diagnosis begins a long and emotional journey for seniors and their families. While loving and devoted family members often step into the role of caregiver for an aging loved one, it can be difficult to anticipate all of the needs that the senior will encounter as the degenerative disease progresses. One of the most common yet overlooked problems that affect elderly Parkinson’s patients is difficulty swallowing.

Swallowing difficulties, also known as dysphagia, occur because the disease causes mouth and throat muscles to weaken, making it difficult to chew solid foods. As a leading provider Scottsdale Parkinson’s care, we understand how this can be a challenge for patients and their caregivers and wanted to offer a few tips on how to help overcome these swallowing problems.

  • Evaluation – When your aging loved one starts to show signs that eating is becoming difficult, contact their doctor for an evaluation. A swallow study may be ordered to assess the patient’s aspiration risk and can be used to determine what foods can be tolerated. This will help reduce the risk for choking on food or developing pneumonia.
  • Exercise – The doctor may also be able to recommend a speech therapist who can offer your loved one specific exercises to help overcome mouth and throat muscle weakness. These should be performed regularly with the help of a family member or professional Scottsdale caregiver to help aid chewing and swallowing. Different swallowing techniques can also be taught, which in some patients can ease swallowing problems.
  • Diet – Modifications to the diet can be made to help with meal time and consist of eating soft, strained or pureed foods and thickened liquids. Depending on how severe the dysphagia has become, the consistency of liquids can be modified to the thickness of honey or pudding. It is important that enough nutrients are consumed to keep the patient as strong as possible.
  • Position – The ability to chew and swallow is influenced by how the patient is positioned while eating. An upright position is best, with the patient sitting at a 90-degree angle, and with a forward tilt to the head. The upright position should be held for 15 -20 minutes following a meal.

For many inexperienced caregivers, identifying new symptoms associated with the disease may be difficult. Here are a few signs that your aging loved one may have developed a swallowing disorder:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Constant coughing or choking
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Heartburn
  • Eating slowly
  • Difficulty swallowing medication

If you notice any of the above changes, it is important to consult with your loved one’s doctor. When swallowing difficulties are identified early, the quality of life and health of the patient can be better preserved. For additional Parkinson’s care tips or for information about Home Care Scottsdale, contact a Home Care Assistance Care Manager at 480-448-6215 and schedule a complimentary in-home consultation.


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