Why is my mother having trouble swallowing?

6 answers | Last updated: Jan 16, 2015
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 Answers

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. 

Community Answers

Pnschmidt answered...

This is a question to bring up with a Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP), one of the allied disciplines in Parkinson's care. As a first option, there is an "Ask the Speech Clinician" forum on the National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) forum site, and you could post your question there: http://forum.parkinson.org/forum/. Any of the NPF's centers of excellence will have the ability to recommend a Parkinson's trained SLPs; these centers are listed on the NPF home page http://www.parkinson.org. NPF runs programs training SLP's and a phone call to the NPF's 800 number (during business hours) can get you the name of an SLP trained in PD in your area.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Parkinson's Patients have a hard time swallowing. It is because they cannot get the food to the back of their mouths because the tongue is not doing it's job. I found with my Mother that the very soft textured foods like bread, pasta, lettuce and even broth are harder to swallow because they almost dissolve in her mouth and have no substance to them. The tongue cannot push them back. Instead of white bread we use toast and instead of spaghetti we do ziti or ravioli which stay a little "chunkier" in her mouth. Nuts are bad, the get caught in her mouth and I am afraid she might swallow one into her lungs. Good soft foods are cottage cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and sometimes an omelet. Drinking with a straw also helps with water, tea and coffee.

Ladydawn answered...

A few years ago my husband felt that he was having trouble swallowing. He complained also about swallowing pills which I felt was in part an outgrowth of the fact that he resented having to take the medications and nutritional supplements for symptomatic PD relief.

Since that complaint extended to food as well because he was terrified of choking, I began serving food which didn't require as much chewing but not a soft diet. I also cut all meats into smaller pieces because often he didn't. Mostly the idea was to present food in a non-threatening way, one that didn't promote the fear. He felt he was being cared for...

I really like the previous food suggestions and will keep them in mind should the time comes if and when the symptoms can no longer be controlled.

We also looked at sinus congestion, more a problem recently since he has begun feeling colder but not dressing for the cold, instead preferring to run a heater beneath his desk. The result is drier air. Once we had the dry and somewhat stuffy nose and the post nasal-drip addressed, some of the problem abated.

Still he was concerned about choking. That's the way he rolls. I started him do simple voice exercises; one being my favorite from my "acting" days. Using the vowel sounds from Whose Old Father Ate Beans: OO OH AH AY EE. You put 2 clean fingers in your mouth between your teeth to keep the mouth open to form an O. You use your throat to propel the sound as you run through that vowel sequence. Try it and you will see that it also involves the lips by keeping them tight. It really helps to relax the throat.

But that wasn't enough.

We wanted more that he could do on a regular basis at home. That was when we discovered Mary Spremulli,MA,CCC-SLP. She now has two wonderful DVDs of classwork which you can purchase for home use. We have both DVDs although he finds the first more fun as it involves both voice and physical exercise while the 2nd is more singing.

I suggest getting the first of the DVDs for home use. Below is a link for ordering: http://www.voiceaerobicsdvd.com/[voiceaerobicsdvd.com]

Please understand that this is not a substitute for a personal visit to a Speech Pathologist, which Ms Spremulli is, but it is an excellent way to begin. The DVD is warm and friendly, enthusiastic and calming. And by the way, the sequence of exercises really did help my husband, especially in calming his fears.

Eva s avila answered...


Maan answered...

Massaging the neck/throat with grapefruit essential oil daily will help improve the swallowing motor of the patient. I do this with my husband suffering from PD.