How can my family and friends help?

The more you talk about the problem, the easier it will be for you and those people around you. Most importantly other members of your family can help you seek professional advice and treatment.

  • If you describe situations that make you feel uncomfortable, or worse, they will know to avoid them and help you manage.
  • If you know that you may be sick or choke if you try and eat with other people say so. It is the fear about the prospect that is just as bad as the reality.
  • If you feel isolated by your condition, those feelings will be made worse when you feel forced into a situation where your eating will be noticed. If your family knows about these situations, they can be sensitive to you.

Here are some examples:

  • Tell your family/carers you prefer to eat quietly on your own, and they can make sure it happens. They will be less likely to nag you to eat if you tell them that you need to have plenty of time.
  • When you are invited to a family celebration, find out if it will be an occasion that you can really enjoy. A buffet lunch or supper where you would not have to eat anything if you did not want to, but could hold a glass, would be much easier for you than a four-course dinner.
  • If you are taken to a restaurant or to lunch with other people, and you need to stand up in the middle of the meal, warn your family that this may happen. Even better if somebody else knows what is going on and stands up too, you will both share the stares. If you are happy to be at the restaurant but do not want to eat, make sure the rest of the party know that so that they do not make an issue of it.
  • If members of your family start boasting about a delicious meal they have just eaten or a fantastic restaurant they have just visited – tell them gently that you would rather not know.

If you are in a nursing or residential home, a busy carer may have neither the time nor the knowledge to ask you why you have lost your appetite. As a result, your dysphagia will often not be recognised, diagnosed and thus remain untreated.

It is therefore important that you make them aware of what you are going through. Similarly, if a friend or family member’s swallowing problems are not being recognised by their carers, make sure you are there as often as possible at mealtimes (in the background if necessary) to see how well they are eating.