Trouble Swallowing Solid Foods

by Dorian Martin Patient Advocate

Mom's having a health issue that is providing me with a new perspective related to taking care of someone with Alzheimer's disease - she's having trouble swallowing solid food. We received a call from the nursing home's speech therapist, who indicated that the dietary staff had noticed this issue. After watching Mom eat, the therapist couldn't determine why Mom couldn't swallow solid food.

And asking Mom what's going on doesn't provide any answers; she just keeps on trying to chew and swallow the food, even though she's gagging. "The 36-Hour Day" by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins explained, "People who cannot express themselves well may not be able to answer yes or no when you ask them specific questions such as 'Does your head hurt?' Even people who still express themselves well may fail to recognize or may be unable to report pain."

I noticed this issue the last time I took cookies to Mom. Her eyes got that excited gleam upon seeing the bag of cookies and she immediately reached for one of the treats. But after she chewed on the soft cookie and tried to swallow, Mom started gagging. I didn't know why, so I snagged the nursing staff to see if they could help. Because Mom's nose was running, we thought Mom's reaction might be due to allergies. The medications nurse gave Mom a gel tab of sinus medicine, but Mom couldn't swallow that gel tab either. The nurse and I asked Mom what was going on, but she couldn't tell us why she was having trouble swallowing.

So that occurrence as well as other incidents related to eating means that Mom will have to participate in a modified barium swallow test next week. I am anticipating that Mom will display some of her usual stubbornness during the testing, which means I need to be present at the testing and have a plan of action in case she refuses to swallow.

This whole situation reminds me how our roles have totally become reversed. I can remember being a little girl and having Mom encourage me to take some pretty icky tasting medicine when I was sick. After much encouragement, I put the medicine in my mouth and - making a face - swallowed. I just hope that I'll have a similarly soothing ability with Mom now that she's the one who has to be encouraged to do what needs to be done to be healthy.

Dorian Martin
Meet Our Writer
Dorian Martin

Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.