Here’s an easy guide to eating safety for PD

Parkinson’s disease patients often have difficulty with chewing and swallowing. Home health nurses can help them eat safely by suggesting or assisting with certain techniques. The American Parkinson Disease Association of Staten Island, NY, has put together a brief guide to eating safety for patients with Parkinson’s disease. Here’s what it says:

Physical changes: The physical changes in the muscles used for speech can affect the ability to chew and swallow safely. The primary problems reported are:

• slow rate of eating;
• fatigue during eating;
• food sticking in the throat;
• coughing or choking on food or liquid;
• difficulty swallowing pills.

If they persist, these problems can lead to weight loss, poor nutrition, and other health problems. For most Parkinson’s patients, however, such problems can be reduced greatly or eliminated by changing how they eat and what they eat. Try these techniques:

• Sit upright during all eating and drinking, even when taking pills.

• Tilt your head slightly forward, not backward, as you swallow.

• Take small bites of food, chew thoroughly, and do not add any more food until everything from the first bite has been swallowed.

• Take small sips of liquid. Hold the liquid in your mouth for a short time to prepare yourself for swallowing.

• Concentrate on moving the food backward in your mouth with the tongue.

• "Double swallow" (swallow a second time) if you feel that the food did not go down completely with the first swallow. Sometimes, taking a sip of liquid between bites of food can help to wash the food down.

• If eating is very tiring, try several smaller meals spaced out during the day instead of three large meals. Nutritional supplements periodically during the day may be helpful in keeping calorie counts high enough for good energy level.

• If coughing or choking occurs, lean forward and keep your chin tipped downward while you cough.

• See a registered speech-language pathologist if swallowing problems persist.