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Thanksgiving with Dysphagia

By Bobbi Carducci

Thanksgiving is the holiday most focused on gathering around the table with family and friends to share a sumptuous feast.  My father-in-law, Rodger, was never one to miss a meal. He ate breakfast, lunch, and supper at precisely the same time every day. He grew up on a farm in Italy. Like most Italians he had a very healthy appetite.

When advancing Parkinson’s disease and dementia triggered severe swallowing problems I knew I had to be creative. Everything he ate had to be pureed and any liquids had to be thickened to the consistency of honey. I bought a food processor and experimented with ways prepare him tasty versions of the things he loved to eat. I showed him that the mushy stuff he insisted wasn’t food was the same thing he used to eat. I had him watch me mash the potatoes, prepare the vegetables, and put them in the food processor.

“This is real food,” he finally admitted.  “But it’s not as good. I need the real, real food.”

I wanted to serve him roast chicken, a baked potato and fresh green beans with a slice of apple pie with ice cream for dessert.  He should have been able to eat anything he wanted. But the danger was too great.

I made a lot of thick soups and stews full of vegetables and beans. Flavor and nutrition were my main focus and when the peas turned the pureed chicken stew green I told him it was one of my Irish specialties. He ate it all.

When Thanksgiving came and the house filled with wonderful of aroma of roasting turkey and baking pies I made sure he was able to enjoy as many of his favorite dishes as possible.

Here is my recipe for A Dysphagia Thanksgiving:

Turkey – I tried pureeing both dark and white meat turkey and found it too grainy so I used a well-known brand of junior baby food and pureed it further to remove all lumps.

1 cup homemade stuffing – Place in food processor with 2 tablespoons of homemade gravy. Puree until smooth, making sure all the lumps are removed. (Add gravy one teaspoon at a time as needed.)

½ cup mashed potatoes – mash or puree to remove all lumps.  Add gravy to the potatoes for flavor.

½ cup creamed spinach – puree until very smooth

For dessert – remove crust from one slice of pumpkin pie, top with whipped cream.

At the end of the meal he said, “This is just like my wife used to make.” I knew it wasn’t true but as long as he enjoyed it there was reason to be truly thankful.


An estimated 15 million people in the United States have the current diagnosis of     Dysphagia.  Patients with Dysphagia are at high risk for aspiration pneumonia, which weakens them and can lead to death.  Nearly 60,000 people die each year from complications associated with swallowing disorders.

Bobbi Carducci is a caregiver advocate, blogger, and author. Her book, Confessions of an Imperfect Caregiver, was written for caregivers, those who may become caregivers, and the families of caregivers who want to understand what it’s really like to be a caregiver. The Imperfect Caregiver blog is found at www.theimperfectcaregiver.com



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