Parkinson’s and Problems Swallowing

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Seniors with Parkinson’s disease often have difficulty swallowing or chewing food due to a loss of control of muscles in the mouth and throat. Problems swallowing can increase the risk of choking or aspirating (food going “down the wrong pipe”) while eating or drinking. To help family caregivers better care for loved ones with Parkinson’s, New Hampshire Home Care Assistance offers some insight into how to help seniors eat comfortably and reduce the risk for choking and other health hazards.

When Difficulty Swallowing Appears

Often associated with the mid-to-later stages of Parkinson’s disease, difficulty swallowing can appear at any point during the progression of the condition. This is due to the fact that stages of the disease sometimes overlap, with patients sometimes experiencing symptoms from later stages along with early symptoms such as shaking and trembling. Ways to make swallowing and chewing easier include:

  • Sitting upright (at a 90-degree angle)
  • Eating and drinking slowly
  • Cutting food into smaller pieces
  • Staying focused while eating (minimizing distractions)
  • Switching to a soft-food diet (if difficulty swallowing increases)

Swallow Test

When a patient starts having difficulty swallowing certain foods, doctors often perform tests to determine the extent of the problem. The first level of testing is a swallow test, performed by a speech-language pathologist, where the patient is given liquids of varying consistencies to determine how well muscles in the mouth and throat are functioning.

Videofluoroscopic Swallowing Study

A more extensive test, a videofloroscopic swallowing study (VFSS) is sometimes required to pinpoint the extent of the damage to muscles in the throat. Performed in a hospital or doctor’s office, the test involves the use of an x-ray machine used to follow the pathway of different foods and drinks mixed with barium.

Managing Swallowing Problems

Some Parkinson’s patients may be given medications to help better control the muscles in the mouth or throat. Other patients respond better when working with a speech pathologist or by changing their diet. When swallowing becomes more difficult as the disease progresses, patients often require full supervision or and assistance while eating. If you are unable to provide the around the clock supervision your aging parent or loved one needs, click here to learn more about reliable 24 hour care in New Hampshire, provided by highly trained and professional Parkinson’s caregivers.

Home Care Assistance is a leading provider of Parkinson’s care in New Hampshire and we are able to provide seniors with the assistance they need at home, no matter what stage of the disease. For more information, we invite you to call us at 603-471-3004. A Care Manager is available 24/7 to answer questions and can also help you schedule a complimentary, no-obligation consultation to learn more about our tailored in-home Parkinson’s care services.


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