Guest Author - Jeanetta Polenske
Nutrition is the most important factor in maintaining health. However, there are many reasons that make it difficult to self-feed or feed others including dysphagia, inability to grasp, upper body weakness, loss of limbs and pain. Since the ultimate goal in self-care or caregiving is to maintain the highest level of independence possible and we want to get the highest benefit from meals, it is imperative that we find the right tools to achieve both.
Fortunately, there are a number of very good accessories to aid with eating for those with physical and mental challenges. Some are well known and some are pretty ingenious. For example, the latest research shows that people with cognitive impairment will consume a greater amount of food from plates that are brightly colored in red or blue.
So letís start with plates and bowls. To keep them from slipping, a suction base can be added to the bottom Ė a simple, yet great idea. For difficulty scooping food onto a utensil, add a plate guard around the perimeter of the plate. For the same reason, a divided plate may help and there are even plates and bowls that have a built-in scoop area on one side. An insulated dish can keep food warm or cold when someone eats at a more leisurely pace.
Next are the marvelous cups that have been adapted for the disabled. The double-handled cup allows holding from both sides when it is difficult to use one hand only. There are sippy cups and nosey cups with a cutout on the lip of the cup. Again, a suction pad can hold a cup steady on a surface. A folding drink holder is available that can be attached to a wheelchair, cane or walker.
Weighted cups aid when tremors make it difficult to hold a drink steady. A no-spill top is available and there is a mug with a recess in the cup instead of a protruding handle for someone who finds that an easier method for grasping. For those with swallowing issues, a cup called Provale is designed so that 5-10 ounces of liquid is delivered at a time to help prevent choking.
Straws are not always recommended as they draw up air into the stomach and it can be difficult to control the amount of fluid being taken in. However, if they are to be used, there are extra long flexible straws and straw holders that can be attached to cups. Lip blocks may be used to form a stop on the straw so that only a limited length is placed in the mouth if that is a particular need. The best new product is the one-way straw that only allows liquid to flow up the straw, eliminates air from entering the straw and will not allow liquid to flow back down between drinks.
Then there are utensils, Knork and Spork being the blend of two in one. Built-up handles seem to be the most popular as they come in many shapes for the many types of grip needs. Weighted utensils, implements with swivel handles and a spoon with a ball-bearing center to keep the spoon level are all available as eating aids.
To protect delicate or painful teeth and gums, there are plastic coated utensils. For difficulties holding utensils, try a utensil clip, finger loop or wrist cuff. A covered spoon or a scoop spoon help to pick up food. A rocker knife for ease of cutting can be found with either side or t-handles.
It would seem that there is an adapted instrument for most disabilities. Assess your needs. Then find the tools that make it easier to keep your independence and help you eat a full and nutritious meal.