What Do You Suggest? Her Mom Can’t Swallow Her Food

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My mother-in-law has entered a stage where she won’t swallow her food. Usually she eats well in the mornings but by lunch and supper she can’t swallow no matter what food we offer.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Wondering how long this can last before it causes serious problems. She was just in the hospital with a UTI and dehydration and constipation. No matter how hard we have tried to avoid the 3 problems, they happened anyway.

Avatar of Denise

About Denise Brown

I began working with family caregivers in 1990 and launched CareGiving.com in 1996 to help and support them. Through my blog, I share words of comfort and offer coping strategies and tips. I also write opinion pieces about recent research, community programs and media coverage of caregiving issues. I've written several caregiving books, including "The Caregiving Years, Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey," "Take Comfort, Reflections of Hope for Caregivers" and "After Caregiving Ends, A Guide to Beginning Again." You can purchase my books and schedule a coaching call with me in our store.

6 thoughts on “What Do You Suggest? Her Mom Can’t Swallow Her Food

  1. Avatar of Donna WDonna W

    I am so sorry that you are having to deal with this. It is such a difficult situation to feed someone who can’t or won’t eat.

    If my mom would only eat in the a.m., I would try to increase her caloric intake as much as possible, as well as get as much fluids into her. I would use the higher calorie nutrition drinks that are 350 calories, give her 2 if possible, if she can’t drink them, use a thickening product to make it a pudding consistancy, this product also adds extra calories. When I make these into puddings, I add extra water to get them to the right consistancy which then will also get extra fluids into mom. I would fix either eggs with cheese, or oatmeal with maple syrup and milk, of course it would also depend on what she could eat. If I had to, I would blend these foods for easier consumption. Cranberry juice each day is a must with the elderly, maybe 6 0unces, to help prevent UTI’s, it works, mom has not had one in over 4 years, and I thicken this up for her as well. Yogurt has a good amount of calories as well to fill in with. Make a list of what she will eat, add up the calories as best you can, then find some add ins that will help increase the calories and also fluids. Maybe you can give her 2 breakfasts, start earlier in the a.m. with the first and then another later in the morning?
    It is an experiment, it is not easy often frustrating and discouraging, and you can only do what you can do to get nutrition into her and it sounds like breakfast time is when you can work at getting the most into her. Please keep in touch and let us know how it is going.

    As for constipation I highly recommend a product called LBS II by Nature’s Sunshine. It is an all natural stool softener and I have been giving this to mom for about 5 years now.
    .-= Donna W´s last blog ..Silent Talking =-.

    • Diana

      thanks replying! You have some good tips. I, too, was a strong believer in cranberry juice and I have a daily check list on the frig that includes cranberry juice, yogart, banana, apple and medicines to help remind the sitters that I want her to get these items every day. We have rarely gone a day without cranberry juice for the last year and yet my mother-in-law still gets UT infections.

      I am always amazed at what a UTI can do to an elderly person. My MIL was very agitated, not eating or drinking or swallowing for about 6 weeks. We treated her for a UTI and couldn’t get the medicine down but she got somewhat better. Then, last week she was admitted to the hospital for 2 days where she got IV antibiotics for 2 days and then we crushed the pills and gave them with applesauce. After 5 days of antibiotics, she has sat at the table and fed herself (with a little help!) 3 meals a day for the last two days. Amazing!

      I have learned that today’s behavior is not necessarily repeated tomorrow. So, I know that I will need your tips on thickening in the near or very near future. Home Health is sending a speech pathologist to evaluate her swallowing and they can order the thickening agent.

      One of our sitter discovered that if you freeze a drink like Ensure, it makes a great “ice milk” and goes down easier. However, when my MIL is in one of her phases where she won’t swallow, it doesn’t matter what consistency or flavor or if she’s hungry — she just can’t do it. It is so heart breaking!

      • Avatar of Donna WDonna W

        I am glad I could be of help to you Diana. That is a very good idea freezing the Ensure, wish I knew about that earlier on in this process! Mom loved ice cream and other frozen dessers. I will be glad to help with the thickening products when you start using them. I went through quite an experiment with them, both following the directions, and ending up creating my own method! Just let me know, I have some tips for you on it.

        It has been one of the most difficult parts of this journey, the decline in mom’s eating. The concern for me that I was starving her has taken it’s tole on me especially this past year. And now since Dec. the decrease in her food consumption is very great and I have had to get some counseling on it (thank you Denise). She has lost much weight again, but I can’t stop this, it is the end of life process, I can only do the best I can to get as much nourishment in her that she will allow.

        You are right that today’s behavior is not necessarily repeated tomorrow. And you will even see that the behavior in the afternoon or evening may not be the same as in the morning. Actually you are experiencing that with her eating patterns.

        I hope it will be easier for you, I have a post somewhere on this site (lol) called “Brownish, Greenish Stuff – Nourishment 1 & 2″ If you can locate it, it tells of some of what I have gone through in this feeding process with mom for the last several years.

        Please let us know how you and you’re MIL are doing and if we can be of any futher help to you let us know! Donna W
        .-= Donna W´s last blog ..Silent Talking =-.

      • Jonus

        Diana, thank you!

        I think u saved my moms life! I read your comment and realized she probably had a tract infection. She did
        I treated the infection, and my mom is good and swallowing.
        Thank you Diana


  2. Marcia

    You go girl, you are doing a great job if nobody bother to say so. Caregiving is close to being one of the hardest jobs in America. I have a well rounded Food Service background; Hospitals, Nursing Homes, Homeless Shelters, Halfway Houses, School Districts, etc. Getting people to eat is something I pride
    myself on. I get many request to assist others with all sorts of caregiving. First, I would have your Mom evaluated at a local hosptial for eating problems. This is cooridinated with Dietary/Food Service and PT or OT.(Physical Theraphy/Occupational Theraphy). They use various foods and observe the patient eating/swallowing/etc. Your Mom may really have something else going on. If not, remember; Once an Adult but, Twice a Child. Feed her like you would children.
    Often medication or a disease may keep them from eating normally.
    UTI’s are a big problem for the elderly. They must drink more water. Try putting water into one of the new crazy water bottles and have them drink all of it and then go from there. Go to the
    Dollar Stores they have a great selection some with built in straws too. But, Colorful signs on the Refrigerator on the Mirror to remind them to drink. Proper handwashing is also a problem.
    You can download cute reminders for kids on how to wash hands from the Health Department and post them up as well. They don’t remember to do these things anymore. Just a friendly reminder can
    help keep the germs down. Lysol 4-1 liquid cleaner is great for all sorts of cleaning. We have to clean their surroundings – they dont remember to. Make sure there’s liquid sanitizing hand wash avaiable too. They need help going to the bathroom and cleaning hands when more than urination took place. Feces gets on their hands, under the nails and they do not see well. Soap and wash your hands as long as it takes to sing the Happy Birthday Song.
    They love fun games like this if—YOU present it right.
    Tell her, “their are a lot of germs going around and you don’t want her to get sick and have to go to the hospital.” By washing your hands …………..
    Give her something soft and a little sweet first. (Applesauce on the spoon first) Mealtime is the highlight of a Seniors day/evening. Use beautiful pink placemats. Have a beautiful centerpiece available, soft music in the background or her favorite TV show on. Set the table with linen napkins to match but, use paper ones during mealtime. You can fold them so they look very attractive and get her attention. Go online for simply napkin folding. Eat something with her during her meal. It’s hard to feed her and yourself too.
    There is a frozen lemon ice in most grocery stores. It’s great to give before meal time or make your own. It should be tart and very icy(w/crushed ice). Can she go to the store with you?
    When females have the ability to go with you to the store, the anticipation of meals is greater with their feedback. You can show her all the new colorful things they have available in the bakery section, floral department (Pick up a few fresh flowers for the table). Think of how it looks when you go out for a special meal. Each meal has to be more of a show/effort to enhance all the little things she cannot say or show. Many diseases cause us not to be able to eat medications have side effects which you should read and learn.
    Dementia/Alzheimer’s/Cancer are a few. My 80 yr old father is just the odd one. He gained 23# in one week, when he had been losing weight before without my knowledge.Postrate CA (He lives on the lower level with his wife) They live separate lives etc. He looks like a 60 yr old and is very mobile still. Since his recent hospitalization and my monitoring him and preparing his meals, he’s really enjoying eating. He has refused all sorts of treatment for Cancer. I remodeled his bedroom/kitchen. I get his suggestions and make out a menu each week with 2 snacks a day added in. Often you much stretch out the 3 meals into 5 or 6 smaller meals to get them to eat. Before soft high calorie desserts/ Cream Pies; Banana, Cocoanut, Choc., Lemon Meringue or Buy either Plastic or glass dessert cups, use instant pudding and layer with whipped topping 2 flavors with toppings. (Maybe Mom can help add the toppings before dinner) Maybe family
    and friend could join her for dessert time once/twice a week. Milkshakes; add non-fat dry milk to them to add calories or a package of Instant Breakfast Drink packages to make several and freeze for later. Also use the websites for ideas for foods. You can add Ensure and all the Nutritional Drinks available instead of milk for the liquid. Get the ones with High Protein. You will also need; Chocolate and Strawberry Syrup (the squeeze kind). Dont forget the Smoothies they are very popular and check out the ingredients for the ones in the dairy, then make your own. Learn how to make everything extra pretty with Cherries, Orange Slices, Whipped Topping, Lemons, etc. Use real butter, sour cream all the goodies you would stay away from if you were dieting or watching your wait. Go to the bakery section for ideas. Check out the deli section too. Pick up a catering catalog for more ideas. Try mashed sweet potatoes vs mashed all the time. If you have to start blending foods try this; for Breakfast Make regualar foods – French Toast, Butter it, Cut it up in small pieces, add to your food processor/blender add small amounts of milk to blend and syrup to taste. Grilled cheese, and many other foods work well like this. Always add the condiments like you would at the table for flavor. Never use baby food, use regular foods the family will have for dinner. Use the library for ideas as well. The dining experience has to be a beautiful 1.
    Plan her old favorite songs softly in the background, talk, talk to her, caress her, smile when you want to cry, laugh when you want to scream. And when you go on your walk alone, then—–you’re only human cry then. Continue to ask Him for direction.
    (Whatever you call Him; God, Lord, Jehovah, etc). Try support groups they often work for many and you get great ideas. Remember there’s someone, somewhere going through what you are going through. Read; The 36 Hour Day. Its focused on Alzheimers caregiving but you can learn the things others wont or dont know
    to tell you or teach you. Go on the AARP website, they have caregiving tips and a Medication Record Form everyone who takes medication should download and fill out for themselves and their
    Bless You and Yours Marcia

    • Diana

      It has only taken me 2 months to get around to reading your relpy! How time flies! Thank you for taking the time. I hope that your good advice is helpful to others as well.

      My MIL now has times – maybe one meal or maybe all day – when she just won’t swallow. It doesn’t matter if the food is liquid or solid. Sometimes she just won’t swallow. Yesterday she couldn’t swallow at lunch but ate popcorn that evening with her son!!! (I would NEVER have fed her popcorn but it worked for him!)

      Your comments reminded me that I used to put fresh flowers on the table regularly and use the good dishes. She doesn’t seem to notice anymore and sectioned plastic plates seem to function better.

      Smoothies are great and the local ice cream and coffee stores sell them in the drive through!! I need to buy my own blender. Unfortunately, I end up eating the smoothies and my husband can’t stay away from the ice cream with chocolate surup! We are the ones gaining weight.

      My MIL can not speak and can no longer help with food preparation. I let her chop apples or celery and later bananas as long as we could to make her feel she was “helping” in the kitchen. She is too unpredictable in the kitchen now and won’t stay in one place very long.

      Physically,she is up and running around but doesn’t know to do or take care of anything for herself. She would, no doubt, fall often if we didn’t stay right with her at all times.

      My prayer is that God will have mercy and she will not come to a stage where she can not swallow at all. You and others are a great encouragement to me. Feeding a patient is more than I ever thought I could do and my patience runs thin. Thankfully, I have some very patient sitters who help a lot.


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