Many people with Parkinson's disease have difficulty swallowing because they lose control of their mouth and throat muscles. As a result, chewing and managing solid foods can be difficult.
Swallowing problems increase the risk of aspiration (inhaling fluid or stomach contents into the lungs) and pneumonia in people with Parkinson's disease. For some, following special swallowing techniques is sufficient to alleviate swallowing problems. For others, dietary changes may be necessary.
Parkinson's disease mostly affects older people but can also occur in younger adults. The symptoms are the result of the gradual degeneration of nerve cells in the portion of the midbrain that controls body movements. The first signs are likely to be barely noticeable -- a feeling of weakness or stiffness in one limb, or a fine trembling of one hand when it is at rest. Eventually, the shaking (tremor) worsens and spreads, muscles become stiffer, movements slow down, and balance and coordination...
How Are Swallowing Problems Diagnosed in Parkinson's Disease?
If you have Parkinson's disease and are having trouble swallowing, contact your doctor. He or she will recommend a speech pathologist to carefully examine your swallowing abilities and evaluate your aspiration risk. A swallowing study using foods and liquids of varying consistency under video-fluoroscopy may be given.
How Can I Make Chewing and Swallowing Easier?
The way you sit and the type of food you eat can influence your ability to swallow. Here are some suggestions to make chewing and swallowing easier.
Sit upright at a 90-degree angle.
Tilt your head slightly forward.
Remain sitting or standing upright for 15-20 minutes after eating a meal.
Periodically suck on Popsicles, ice chips, lemon ice or lemon-flavored water to increase saliva, which will increase how often you swallow.
If chewing is difficult or tiring:
Minimize (or eliminate) foods that require chewing, and eat more soft foods.
Puree your foods in a blender.
If thin liquids cause you to cough, thicken them with a liquid thickener (your speech pathologist can recommend one for you.) You can also substitute thin liquids with thicker liquid choices such as nectars for juices and cream soups for plain broths.
Tips for Taking Medications
Crush your pills and mix them with applesauce or pudding. But, some drugs, such as Sinemet CR, should not be crushed because this can affect how the drugs work. Ask your pharmacist for recommendations on which pills should not be crushed and which medications can be purchased in a liquid form.