Porridge and blackberries on white breakfast table

Parkinson's disease can make even the simplest activities, like eating and drinking, difficult. But with the help of an occupational therapist, you can work on strategies to make these tasks easier. This guide will give you some tips on how to eat and drink safely and effectively with Parkinson's disease.

Keep in mind that everyone is different, so be sure to discuss your specific needs with your therapist.

Tremors, slow movements and difficulties multi-tasking can all lead to difficulties eating and drinking. Maintaining independence with eating and drinking is important not only for confidence and wellbeing but also to encourage participation in social events.  

How does Parkinson’s affect my eating and drinking? 

Parkinson’s impacts your muscles therefore any movement that requires muscle control will be impacted. Eating and drinking is often a symptom that creeps up on people with Parkinson’s.

 

 With Parkinson's, your muscles may be less effectual and this can make chewing difficult. It also reduces the tightness you have when closing lips which makes swallowing more difficult as well. Besides the physical difficulties this presents many people with Parkinson’s disease describe a social awkwardness that can worsen mental health conditions.

The condition can also impact our tongue muscles and digestive system. As the tongue muscle is critical in our subconscious swallowing process this can impact the destination of the food. It is not uncommon for people to find food going down their windpipe and not their oesophagus. This can cause coughing, choking and even lung infections like pneumonia if not addressed quickly.

Who can help? 

If you or a loved one is having trouble with swallowing or coughing when digesting food and drink, it is important to get a referral to a speech and language therapist.  

It is important to always access the proper support. The following are key players on your journey with Parkinson’s, so it is important to ensure they are in place and familiar.

  • Occupational Therapists
  • Parkinson’s Nurse
  • Dietitian
  • Speech and language therapist

All the above professionals are accessible via the community GP or via your local NHS hospital.

What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s? 

The symptoms of Parkinson’s regarding eating and drinking are multiple and can be unrelated. If you are concerned it is advisable to keep a diary noting how often these symptoms are occurring and discuss with your GP your worries.  Some of the symptoms include,

  • Coughing when eating
  • Swallowing difficulties (dysphagia)
  • Having to concentrate when chewing
  • New found problem taking tablets and medication
  • Food getting caught in your throat
  • Discomfort swallowing saliva
  • Constant chest infections

All the above can cause a change in eating and drinking habits. Often, we don’t even realise we are changing but over time this can lead to malnutrition and dehydration as our body and mind subconsciously changes its behaviour.

Occupational Tips for chewing and swallowing with Parkinson’s Disease 

Here are some easy techniques and products that will make living with Parkinson’s that little bit easier.  

  • If you experience tremors weighted cutlery can be effective, however, it can also cause fatigue.  Alternatively, more modern equipment such as anti-tremor cutlery counteract low grade tremors.
  • Thick handled cutlery can be beneficial to improve grip 
  • Mugs with an internal cones can help reduce spillages, reduce the range of movement required to finish a drink and can be beneficial to slower drinkers.  Ornamin offer a range of mugs with internal cones.  
  • Mug or cup lids as well as bendable straws can reduce spillages particularly when experiencing tremors. 
  • Plates with deep sloped edges and non-slip bases make it much easier to eat one-handed, reducing coordination issues caused by using cutlery in both hands 
  • A Knork is a combined knife and fork which can make chopping food up much easier.
  • It is also advised to check there is suitable seating in place when eating and drinking, a chair which provides good postural support and places your body in the best position for swallowing and digestion is important.  

Remember to constantly readdress these measures as disease progression is unavoidable.

It is important for family members and carers to constantly assess these everyday activities like eating and drinking to ensure the person with Parkinson’s has the best quality of life possible.  

Parkinson's patients may have difficulty eating and drinking for a variety of reasons. Some common problems include trouble swallowing, poor hand coordination, and balance problems.

There are many ways to help make eating and drinking easier for people with Parkinson's disease, and most of these can be started early in the progression of the disease.

OTs, dietitians, speech and language therapists and Parkinson’s nurses can work with patients and their families to develop strategies that will make mealtimes easier and more enjoyable.

Image Credits 

Header Image Lena Mytchyk Unsplash

 

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