April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month and we asked our Exceptional Caregivers to share some of their greatest challenges working with those who live with PD. Over and over, the conversation returned to mealtimes. This is partly because of the potential for real danger from choking or long-term effects of poor nutrition. But another consideration is the independence represented by being able to feed oneself.
Dry mouth is a consistent side effect of many of the medications used to treat Parkinson’s. This can make chewing less efficient, which can not only ruin the taste of the food but can interfere with digestion and even be a choking risk. Serving meals with water or another soothing beverage can help. You also might consider moistening some foods like toast or adding sauces to meats.
Re-think bite-sized. It’s one thing to remind someone living with Parkinson’s Disease that smaller bites are healthier and safer, but some foods are prepared and served is what appear to be bite-sized pieces. Soups and stews for example, and even stir-fry vegetables may require a smaller cut than we’re otherwise used to.
Eat at the table. Serving a meal on a tray so your loved one can enjoy it in their favorite chair may seem like an act of kindness, but many with PD have weakness or paralysis in the muscles involved in swallowing and digesting. Sitting fully upright in a kitchen or dining room chair straightens the pathway and makes swallowing much easier.
Allow for focus on eating. It seems like anybody at a family dinner who’s not looking at a tiny screen in their hand is staring at a larger one across the room. With PD, however, the loss of motor function and control means that handling food, biting, chewing and swallowing may require a higher level of concentration. Eliminate the potential distractions you can and be considerate by not starting a complex conversation at the table.
Caring for someone with Parkinson’s Disease takes an immense amount of patience and energy and those who do it every day are heroes, for sure. It also requires continuous learning so that our caring routines can change with the condition of the one we love. It is part of our shared commitment to preserving the dignity and independence of people living with Parkinson’s Disease for as long as possible.