Thursday, July 17, 2014

The last taste to go

ice cream 2I come from a family who loves great food. My maternal grandmother made the most magnificent pasta sauces, handmade meat tortellini and mouthwatering veal parmesan.

My paternal grandmother made succulent lamb and beef roasts and the best pies on the planet. Today, at the age of 80, my mom is still making linguini with shrimp and sun-dried tomatoes, baked haddock with a cracker topping and homemade apple crisp.

Over the past few years, however, my mother has begun altering her recipes to allow my dad to enjoy them more. My dad has dysphagia, a condition that causes him to have difficulty chewing and swallowing. He began to have trouble swallowing 30 years ago.

In his 50s, he was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), caused by stomach acid backing up into the esophagus. This reflux caused inflammation and a narrowing of the esophagus and sometimes made it hard for him to swallow solid foods.

At the time none of us thought about altering his diet.

His physician recommended he carry a prescription of nitroglycerin to be placed under his tongue to help relax his muscles during a particularly bad episode of esophageal spasms. And every few months he had his throat stretched to dilate, or widen, the narrowing. That seemed to do the trick.

Later the doctor prescribed omeprazole to help control stomach acid. For a number of years thereafter my dad was symptom-free.

Now in his 80s, my dad has experienced another type of dysphagia called oropharyngeal dysphagia, which makes it difficult to move food to the back of his mouth to start the swallowing process. This type of dysphagia can result from various nerve and brain disorders such as stroke, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, tumors, infections and even dental disorders.

My dad has Parkinson’s. His dysphagia symptoms include coughing during meals and involuntarily pocketing food between his teeth and cheeks.

My mom has done a great job of altering her recipes to address my dad’s current needs.

The shrimp in her linguini is cut into very tiny pieces. She makes more meatloaf with gravy than she used to, and her chicken piccata or chicken marsala is now made with tofu cutlets, which are not as dry as chicken breasts. The tofu cutlets are her little secret, so we won’t send this column to my dad to read.

But when it comes to sweets, there is one dessert both my mom and dad can’t get enough of, and that is ice cream.

I often refer to ice cream as the last taste to go.

Each afternoon my dad has a snack of Fruttare Fruit & Milk Bars. He loves the mango flavor. Coming home from the doctor, my parents often make a detour to Richardson’s Ice Cream shop in Middleton, Mass.

Richardson’s is an old-fashioned stand that has become a tradition. Seniors who discovered Richardson’s as a child often relive their youth by bringing their children and grandchildren.

My parents’ home freezer is stocked with their favorite dinnertime dessert, Grape-nuts with vanilla ice cream. Grape-nuts ice cream (yes, like the cereal) was a big seller in New England when my parents were children.

There are both scientific and emotional reasons for seniors’ affection for ice cream.

As we get older we lose sensitivity to salty and bitter tastes first. According to science, the ability to distinguish “sweet” is retained the longest. “Sweet” is also the first taste we are exposed to as infants. Breast milk and formula are both sweet.

From an emotional standpoint, ice cream is a food sensation we’ve enjoyed throughout our lifetime. Not only can we still taste it well in our later years, but it brings back great memories.

Since July is National Ice Cream Month, why not buy a senior (and yourself) an ice cream and reminisce together about your first ice cream memory?

I am smiling right now as I recall my grandmother sitting across from me at Currier’s luncheonette in Plymouth, Mass., both of us eating her favorite: coffee ice cream with hot fudge and whipped cream.

To this day, coffee is still my favorite ice cream flavor.


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Tags: ice cream,grapenuts,GERD,dysphagia
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Categories: Elder HealthNumber of views: 2088

Tags: senior's taste sensations

Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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