Swallowing Challenges With Dementia

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If Only I Can Remember By Regina Posvar

Q: Dear Miss Regina, My mum has stopped eating unless my sister or nurse feeds her. Recently, she has started to choke and spit up her food. The nurse said this is her way of refusing to eat. It is scary to watch this happen. We had started giving her just bits at a time and sometimes it works. Is there anything else we can do to help her?

A: Take her to a speech therapist and have them give her a swallowing evaluation. Or see if they will come to see your mum. They can help you determine what types of food she can tolerate. At this stage of dementia, the brain is not getting the signals on how to swallow and this can be very dangerous. The risk of aspiration is high when swallowing is a challenge.

The therapist will be able to tell you if your mum can tolerate bite size, liquids, thick or thin, and if a straw is needed or not. All of these things can help her get the nutrition she needs. She is not refusing; she doesn’t want to struggle with food. Find a way to make it easier for her. Get someone to help you get the right texture for her.

Q: Dear Miss Regina, My mother has had dementia for 8 years now and is in the latter stages of the disease. She can no longer recognize any of her family members but, like you have mentioned before, she is able to recognize if she wants to be around us or not. I just wanted to share with you that this has been a long journey and hard in the beginning.

I no longer feel angry or frustrated anymore. I am still sad at times but most of my days are spent thinking of how appreciative I am with the time and good moments I get with my mother.

Her personality has changed. She wasn’t the easiest person to get along with. She pushed us all through school and college all on her own. But growing up, we didn’t like her much. When my siblings and I look through photos with her and talk about times past, we realize how much our mother was doing her best and was so stressed in caring for us.

When she was first diagnosed, we all were in denial and she was even meaner. At least that is how it felt to us at the time. As her condition progressed, she became more relaxed and seemed happy just to be in our presence. The more we spent time doing things with her that she used to do, we quickly learned if she liked it or not but found what she likes and lately it had been scribbling on paper.

When we went through some of her packed away belongings, we came across a sketch pad dated 1941 and 1942 by her. It was the most amazing findings for our family. We realized that she enjoyed art and drawing. She cannot make out a picture that is recognizable but she enjoys drawing. We tell her how amazing it is, anyhow.

We are amazed that she can even hold a pencil at this level. She is adorable to us and as unfortunate as this disease is, it has brought a lot of healing to our family. We have chosen to think more positively about the condition and encourage other families to look beyond the disease.

A: This September will be observed as the sixth global World Alzheimer’s Month, an international campaign to raise awareness and challenge stigma.

The theme for World Alzheimer’s Month 2017 is Remember Me. We are asking you to get involved by sharing your favourite memories, or memories of a loved one, on social media this September as well as wear anything purple every Friday and share with your local Alzheimer’s Association.

The impact of World Alzheimer’s Month is growing but the stigmatization and misinformation that surrounds dementia remain a global problem. Support your local Alzheimer’s Association.

Be sure to come to Memory Café at Island Mix today, Saturday, August 19. It is a time for family and loved ones living with dementia to get out of the house and socialize in a friendly environment. Local artists will be there for your painting experience and light refreshments will be served.

Send questions to angelsofthewest@outlook.com or text 758-486-4509.

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