One of the less discussed symptoms of Parkinson’s is Dysphagia. Dysphagia is the term for swallowing difficulty.
Parkinson’s affects the muscles and nerves responsible for the mechanics of swallowing and this can have a great impact on your quality of life.
Some of the symptoms of Dysphagia are.
- Choking when eating
- Coughing or gagging when swallowing
- Reflux and heartburn
- Regurgitation of food
- Difficulty chewing and starting to swallow
- Inability to control saliva production.
- Recurring pneumonia
Many people become frustrated and embarrassed and subsequently isolate themselves from social events like dinner or eating out with friends or family.
Dysphagia can also lead to malnutrition, dehydration, and aspiration (when food or liquid goes down the wrong pipe). Aspiration is often silent (no coughing or choking) and can lead to aspirational pneumonia – the leading cause of death in Parkinson’s.
Your doctor can help improve swallowing with medication adjustments but it is also wise to visit a Speech Pathologist for individual treatment and exercises. The specific exercises will depend on your swallowing problem.
For example, if you have a problem with the first phase of swallowing, before the food leaves your mouth, tongue exercises may help. Different exercises will be recommended if your problem lies in the later stages of swallowing.
Following are some easy tongue strengthening exercises you can do at any time.
- Stretch your tongue out of your mouth. Hold this position for 5 counts. Repeat 5 times.
- With your mouth open, stretch your tongue out and move it from side to side – first to the left side and then to the right side of your mouth. Repeat 5 times each side, holding for a count of 5 each time.
- Open your mouth as wide as you can, and then try to touch the tip of your tongue to your upper teeth or to the front of the palate. Do this for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
- With your mouth closed, move your tongue in a circle on the inner surfaces of your lips, inside your mouth. Do this first in a clockwise direction. Repeat 3 times. Then do this in an anti-clockwise direction. Repeat 3 times.
- Close the tip of your tongue to your palate above and hold for 5 counts. Repeat 5 times.
- Press the tip of your tongue inside of each cheek. Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times.
Don’t let dysphasia effect your quality of life and your health. Speak with your Parkinson’s health professional about exercises to slow or prevent dysphasia as a possible symptom of your Parkinson’s journey.