In contrast, some people with Parkinson’s experience a dry mouth because they swallow repeatedly, which removes saliva from the mouth. The lack of lubrication can result in a sore or dry throat, which can make talking and eating uncomfortable.
Dry mouth may also be caused by some Parkinson’s medicines, particularly anticholinergic medications.
Some people find that Parkinson’s medicines cause tastes to alter. Foods may taste metallic and unappetising, which will reduce production of saliva. This not only aggravates the problem of dry mouth, but also the enzymes in saliva that begin to break down food are lacking.
If you have a dry mouth, you could try taking frequent sips of water, sucking on ice chips or using a mouth spray. Avoid caffeine, soft drinks, alcohol and tobacco, which all dry the mouth.
Other eating difficulties
In some people with Parkinson’s, the tongue bunches up, forcing food through the teeth and out of the mouth instead of being swallowed.
As facial muscles are affected it can become harder to move food around the mouth when chewing. This can make eating a lengthy and tiring process. Food remaining in the mouth can increase the risks of choking, aspiration and infections.
You may start to experience problems with teeth and gums. Combined with motor problems, these can make chewing uncomfortable or difficult.
Parkinson’s can also affect muscles in the oesophagus which push swallowed food down to the stomach. Movement of food towards the stomach may become slower, which may make you feel full even if you haven’t eaten much. Only when food reaches the stomach do you feel hungry again. It is therefore important that you take your time when eating. You may also find it helpful to eat small but more frequent meals.
If eating becomes difficult and tiring, and food seems unappetising, your food intake is likely to drop, and you could start to lose weight. It is important to eat enough food and maintain a healthy weight to stay well and fight infection. A dietician can advise on high calorie items to help you maintain your weight.
Difficulties with eating, swallowing or saliva control can cause embarrassment. Eating should be an enjoyable social activity, but many people with Parkinson’s start to avoid social situations while eating. Fear of choking can add to stress and even cause panic attacks before mealtimes. These problems can affect your quality of life.
It is important that your carer, family and friends understand why you have problems with eating and that these are often part of life with Parkinson’s. If they know to support you and give you more time it will help you to enjoy meals both at home and in social settings.