Cathie's Corner - Adaptive eating aids


Adaptive eating aids:
6 common independent eating challenges and how to solve them


When we think about eating, many of us will be recalling some of our favourite foods, but we will also be thinking about the positive associations we have with that food – a meal with friends or family, the satisfaction of a relaxing night in, and many other foodie related occasions. Eating is a great pleasure for most people. If you think about it, so many social opportunities, even informal breakfast with other family members, celebratory gatherings, or even work interactions, often revolve around eating.

 

It is not surprising then that over my (many) years of working with people living with a whole range of functional challenges, a common thread is that if there is anything they really wish to do independently and with dignity, it is eating. (Just as an aside – the other is, unsurprisingly, being able to manage bathroom and toilet-related activities.)

 

Most people are very self-conscious about any difficulties they have with eating that might result in them looking messy, dropping food, getting food or drink on them, having difficulty swallowing/choking, or looking less than smooth in their movements. As well as these important self-conscious aspects of eating challenges, there is also the added disappointment of ending up eating cold food, frustration at not being able to cut food up, pick it up, or to capture the mouthful you want easily and successfully to be able to place it in your mouth.

 

Many people who experience difficulties eating simply end up not eating enough to provide the nutrition they need because it is just too exhausting to maintain focus and keep going when every mouthful requires a huge effort, and often those around you are long finished while you’re still only half done.

 


 

Eating is not only important for nutrition, but also for social life engagement and enjoyment. For these reasons, we have hunted down a variety of eating implements to suit most functional challenges. The thing is that people’s difficulties cover a very broad spectrum of functional issues, and all need different solutions to overcome them.

 

So, I have put together a bit of a guide that identifies the frequently seen challenges around eating and what products exist to help make eating more efficient, and mealtimes more pleasurable. I hope you find it helpful.

 

 


1. Weak hand grip or painful hands

When might this occur?

Painful or weak arthritic hands, nerve damage, head or spinal injury, or numerous other causes, can make manipulating cutlery to eat very challenging.

 

Possible solutions:

Reducing the need to close your hand tightly can help with pain and enable a stable grip even if the fingers are not strong. Often a larger sized handle that you don’t have to grip as tightly and/or very lightweight utensils can assist.

 

Alternatively, you might have the movement to hold a narrower handle but just need the utensils to be very lightweight.

 

Eating aids that can help:

• Etac lite thick handles

• Caring cutlery - thicker shaped handles to aid grip

• Queens built up handles

• Foam lightweight with grips

• Etac lite thin handles

• Etac lite combination cutlery

 


2. Weak grip and difficulty raising the arm and/or getting the spoon/fork at the right angle to eat from it

When might this occur?

Weak grip and difficulty using the arms can be the result of arthritis, joint problems, injury, or neurological conditions too.

 

Possible solutions:

Lightweight cutlery with larger handles will help, and having the spoon or fork angled toward the mouth might make it even easier. This angle reduces the movement needed to get the food closer to take easily into your mouth.

 

Eating aids that can help:

• Etac lite thick handles and angled heads

• Good Grips built up bendable options (not lightweight)

• Foam lightweight with grips

 


3. No (or very little) ability to grasp/close fingers around utensils

When might this occur?

This can occur with severe arthritis, neurological condition, spinal injuries etc.

 

Possible solutions:

Using a 'holding cuff' to attach the utensil to your hand might assist to enable more independence. You can then slip your fingers through the loop, or have assistance from a helper to put the holder on the utensil and your hand.

 

 


4. Tremor or shaking challenges

When might this occur?

The most common causes of tremor are Parkinson’s disease or essential tremor, but shaking hands/arms can have other neurological causes.

People are constantly frustrated by working hard to 'capture' the food only to find it is shaken off the utensil before reaching their mouth.

 

Possible solutions:

Using weighted cutlery is helpful for many people. The additional weight seems to just tame the tremor enough for many people to keep the food in place. Adding wrist weights to your eating arm and using stabilising techniques like putting your elbow on the table to reduce the ability for whole arm movements can also help. There are cutlery options with or without larger handles and options for adjustable angled spoon and fork ends as well.

 

If the tremor is severe, using an electronic balancing spoon/fork (such as the Gyenno products listed below) can really change things for the better. These devices 'absorb' the tremor, reducing the degree of up and down movement at the end of the spoon, enabling food to remain in place while you bring it to your mouth.

 

Eating aids that can help:

• Good Grips weighted bendable cutlery

• Gyenno Twist and tremor spoon plus fork attachment – the Twist model is good for coordination difficulties too

 

 


5.Very little upper limb movement

When a person has very little upper limb movement possible but can use a finger or another part of the body to tap a soft-press button switch. People in electric wheelchairs will often use a head tap with the button placed on the headrest or a slight finger movement for a switch placed in an accessible position to activate the cycle to collect and deliver each mouthful from the plate to the mouth.

 

When might this occur?

This can occur as the result of an ongoing medical condition, or accident or progressive illness. People with very severe or unpredictable tremor or with severe ataxia (difficult to control upper limb movements such as in severe cerebral palsy or Huntington’s chorea) might find this option very appealing to try.

 

Possible solution:

Where movement of the arms and hands is severely limited, there is still the option to eat independently if a helper is available to set up the meal for using the Bestic Feeding arm.

 

Being able to participate in a shared mealtime where a person can eat at their own pace, choose what they want from their plate, and not be dependent on another person, encourages engagement in the social environment and provides a more dignified eating experience.

 

 


6. When a person requires a helper to feed them

When might this occur?

This might be temporary, while a person is recovering from a medical condition, or ongoing.

 

Possible solution:

If a person requires a helper to feed them with a spoon, it is important to choose a spoon that is as safe as possible.

 

A spoon with a silicon or softer end than a metal spoon should be considered if the person has any tendency to bite down on the spoon (this will protect teeth), or if they are likely to move quickly or unexpectedly (potentially making them vulnerable to injury if a hard spoon is in or close to the mouth when that movement happens).

 

Our knowledgeable in store Teams are always ready to answer your questions and to help you to go through the options available to make daily functions more dignified, more enjoyable, or in some cases, simply possible.

 

Browse our Eating Aids range online or visit one of our 16 independent living centres around Australia if you have any individual questions you need answered.

 

Our team have years of experience in finding the right products and will tailor the solutions based on your needs.
Find and contact your nearest store here:


 

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