How will I know if my father can’t swallow medications any more?

Alzheimer’s progressively creates difficulty swallowing. This is due to the brain failing to signal the throat to enact swallowing muscles and reflexes. As you imply, this can become a problem and caregivers need to remain alert to the situation at hand.

If your father is past the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, you need to closely observe him when he takes his medication and is eating. Notice whether he chews for long periods of time but doesn’t swallow. Watch for whether he pockets medication or food in a cheek and leaves it there for quite a while.

There are some steps you can take if this becomes an issue. First, make sure medication issues are taken care of. Speak with his doctor and see if the medication can be eliminated. If not, see if it is available in liquid form. This goes for vitamins and other supplements, too. However, some liquid medicines might have a bad taste and your father might refuse to take it. Again, carefully observe what he is putting in his mouth and actually swallowing.

Another consideration for medications is whether the doctor can prescribe something that can be crushed. Some medicines lose their effectiveness if crushed, so be sure to ask about this. If crushing is OK, you can then mix it into yogurt, applesauce, pudding or something similar.

Watch the progression of the swallowing situation and note if it worsens. Remain in contact with the doctor so you can always stay on top of what medications are actually being ingested, which are not making it into your father’s system and which could be discontinued, if necessary.

For more information, an excellent resource is “The Indispensable Alzheimer’s Resource Kit.” It can be downloaded at no cost by clicking here.