Why is my mother having trouble swallowing?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom has a lot of problems swallowing lately. It seems to come and go. She keeps claiming she can't swallow. She would chew and spit out, even the foods she used to love eating. She would say she can't swallow it. I assure her she can swallow the vitamins which are tough. Then she would do it. Every meal takes up to two hours. I'm running out of patience.

Expert Answer

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

I would have this problem investigated, as it sounds as if you are taking alot of time to feed her.  Some people do develop swallowing problems from diseases like strokes, Parkinson's, or dementias.  I would let your mother's health care provider know that this is an issue, so that they can find out what is going on.  She needs to have her throat examined to make sure it looks good.  They can have her see a Speech Language Pathologist, who will see if she is really having a swallowing problem by doing swallowing tests. 

You can help her swallowing difficulties by giving her soft, easily chewable foods.  For example, ice cream is especially easy to swallow.  As for her pills, sometimes you can break them or crush them (ask a pharmacist if it is OK) and mix them with pudding or applesauce to help make swallowing them easier.