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Parkinson's Disease: Eating and Drooling Problems

Topic Overview

Parkinson's disease can change many of the muscles used for speech, chewing, and swallowing. Changes in these muscles may cause:

  • Weight loss and nutrition problems.
  • Slow eating.
  • Fatigue during eating.
  • Food "sticking" in the throat.
  • Coughing or choking on food or liquids.
  • Trouble swallowing saliva, which causes drooling.
  • Trouble swallowing pills.

But there are things you can do to help reduce eating and drooling problems. A speech-language pathologist (also called a speech therapist) can teach you exercises and show you other ways to help with eating, swallowing, and drooling.

Eating problems

You can reduce eating problems by changing how and what you eat.

  • Sit upright when eating, drinking, and taking pills.
  • Take small bites of food, chew completely, and swallow before taking another bite.
  • Take small sips of liquid, and hold them in your mouth as you prepare to swallow.
  • If eating is tiring, divide food into smaller but more frequent meals.
  • Thicker drinks make swallowing easier. Try milk shakes or juices in gelatin form.
  • Eat moist, soft foods. Use a blender to prepare food for easier chewing.
  • Avoid foods such as crackers or cakes that crumble easily. These can cause choking.
  • If you cough or choke, lean forward and keep your chin tipped downward while you cough.

Drooling

To reduce drooling:

  • Keep your chin up and your lips closed when you aren't speaking or eating.
  • Swallow often, especially before you start to speak.
  • Ask a speech therapist about exercises to strengthen lip muscles.
  • Avoid sugary foods that cause more saliva to develop.
  • Ask your doctor about medicines you can use to help the problem.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
G. Frederick Wooten, MD - Neurology
Last Revised December 5, 2012

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