One of the essential parts of taking care of the elderly is providing them with nutritious and delicious food to keep them healthy. In addition to that, it is also great to serve them their favorite meals or bring them to their favorite restaurants and spend some quality time with friends or family. However, there are cases wherein some seniors find it difficult to eat by themselves due to certain medical conditions.
Most older adults absolutely want to maintain their independence when it comes to eating. With this, those who lose the ability to eat by themselves often feel embarrassed or uncomfortable being fed by others. This makes them avoid eating outside of their home, turning down chances to visit their favorite restaurants or spend time with their loved ones. This may lead them to feel lonely and isolated.
If you are taking care of a senior loved one, and he or she is finding it quite challenging to eat by themselves but also feel embarrassed to let you or others feed them, we are here to help. There are adaptive eating essentials available today that may help elderly patients feed themselves as much as possible without needing the assistance of anyone. If you are curious about these, read on as we’re giving you the essential items to help elderly patients when eating.
Eating Essentials for Senior Patients
There are adaptive dinnerware and other well-designed utensils that may help seniors eat without any assistance. To give you more ideas, below are some eating essentials for seniors that you might want to try:
1. Adaptive Eating Utensils
Picking up a fork or spoon, feeding themselves, picking up a knife to cut food, or using a fork to lift meat to their mouth is natural for healthy people. However, for some elderly patients who are weak or suffering from a certain health issue, it can be challenging to eat their meals by themselves. They may have certain physical limitations that can make eating more complicated for them. But there are special silverware that they can use that may help their case.
If your senior patient needs adaptive eating utensils, you may check out our Guide to Selecting Assistive Devices for People Living with Parkinson’s Disease for more options.
Adaptive eating utensils are made especially for those who are unable to feed themselves. These utensils feature larger silverware handles that are not just convenient to hold but as well as easier to grip. Their handles also have added weight that can help stabilize tremors and shaking for the elderly who have Parkinson’s or for those who suffered a stroke.
Below are the various types of adaptive eating utensils:
- Angled Eating Utensils: These are modified forks, spoons, and knives that are curved or bendable. They make it easy for the elderly to eat their food. If your loved one finds it challenging to grasp, cut, or take food into their mouth, then using angled utensils may help them.
- Plastisol-Coated Spoons: These spoons feature a protective coating that reduces the chances of injuring the mouth of a person due to biting reflexes or restricted coordination. Plastisol-coated spoons are great for people who have limited coordination and mild biting reflexes. In addition, if the patient has a disability or weak hand muscles, an adaptive utensil holder can be used with a plastisol-coated spoon to allow him to eat independently.
- Weighted Utensils: These are the types of utensils that have added weight to their handles to help reduce hand tremors. These can provide them more control and grip as they eat. The added weight of these utensils can also help stabilize their shaky hands and provide appropriate feedback to people who have sensory issues.
2. Eating Utensil Holders
Utensil holders may assist the elderly who are unable to hold spoons, forks, or other eating utensils due to certain medical conditions. These holders feature universal cuffs and straps that can help people grip their cutlery without any assistance.
3. Bibs and Clothing Protectors
It is also common for elderly patients to spill food on their clothes. However, it can be a headache for caregivers to wash their clothes every time they eat. Therefore, using a functional adult bib can work great for seniors when they eat to avoid staining their clothes with food. These bibs and clothing protectors come in different durable closures that you can pick from.
Below are some examples of bibs and clothing protectors:
- Adult Bibs with Snap Closures: These are bibs that are equipped with snap closures that are easy for caregivers to use. There are many options when it comes to the designs and colors of bibs, and you can pick them depending on the choice of the senior. But those with snap closures are more durable and can provide more protection.
- Napkin Bib Clips: If the elderly do not want to use a bib, you can instead get some napkin bib clips. These provide a better way to protect the patient’s clothes during meals. They can secure a napkin around the neck of the elderly instead of tucking a bib into their shirt.
4. Adaptive Drinking Aids
If a senior patient is unable to drink or hold a glass, there are specialized drinking cups, mugs, and straws that they can use to help them drink independently. These adaptive drinking aids may help patients who have difficulty holding cups and glasses to drink without any assistance from a caregiver.
Below are some examples of adaptive drinking aids you can choose from:
- No-Spill Cups and Mugs: These types of cups and mugs feature different types of handle styles and lids that enable patients to drink independently without any assistance. They can be helpful for the elderly who have health issues like pain, tremors, stiffness in the arms, neck, or shoulders, reduced grip, and loss of vision or sensation. These cups and mags allow them to drink liquids even when they are lying down. Also, if the senior has a problem swallowing liquids, you can get lids with a small hole, lids with spouts, or lids with a hole for a straw.
- Safe Swallowing Cups: There are cups that seniors who have difficulty swallowing liquids can use. These cups are designed to allow caregivers to control the amount of liquid that is released from the spout. Elderly people who have dementia or dysphagia are at risk of choking, and they can benefit from safe swallowing cups. There are also different designs available, including one that has a lid and button to release the liquid and cut-out or angled cups that allow patients to drink from the cup without tilting their heads back.
- Adaptive Drinking Straws and Holders: If safe swallowing cups and no-spill mugs are not fit for your senior loved one, then you can choose to let them use adaptive drinking straws and holders. These may also allow seniors to drink independently without any help.
5. Adaptive Dining Plates, Plate Guards, and Bowls
These types of plates and bowls work great in solving eating challenges for elderly people who have physical limitations and disabilities that may give caregivers a difficult time. Adaptive dining plates, plate guards, and bowls are designed to have raised edges for scooping foods easily. They also have added weight to help stabilize tremors and shaking for seniors who are suffering from Parkinson’s or arthritis.
Below are some examples of adaptive plates, guards, and bowls to help you choose:
- Non-Slip Mats: These mats feature increased gripping power and provide a firm surface that can hold items on the table and prevent them from slipping or sliding. Aside from eating utensils and dinnerware, these mats may also stop books from slipping on a shelf or prevent the paper from slipping during writing.
- Non-Skid Dinnerware Dishes: These types of dishes are great for senior patients who require extra stability due to decreased dexterity. With the use of non-skid dinnerware dishes, seniors will be able to eat their food independently and with dignity. Most of these dishes feature suction bases or non-slip bottoms that hold onto the surface and provide a strong grip to the user when eating. These are recommended for the elderly who have Parkinson’s, hand tremors, stroke, and other neurological ailments.
You may also read our Guide to Selecting Tools and Equipment for the Elderly with Hand Tremors for more tips and recommendations.
How Adaptive Eating Equipment Aid Different Conditions
Any senior who finds it difficult to cut their food or get food into their fork or spoon and then to their mouth on their own might find specialized adaptive eating utensils helpful. There are a lot of conditions that may limit the range of motion in the arms or decrease dexterity in the fingers or hands. These conditions may greatly impact the ability of a senior to feed themselves independently.
1. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Utensils that are soft-built or those made out of universal foam can make it easier to grip, even with poor hand strength and control. The use of a universal cuff may help if the grasp is weakened severely. Bent or curved utensils may also help if the elderly find it difficult to bring his hand to his mouth. Using rocker knives may also make cutting foods easier for seniors.
For seniors who have painful, weak, arthritic hands, using universal foam or utensils with built-up handles is usually recommended. The larger the diameter of the handle, the easier it is to grasp. It also puts less stress on painful joints.
3. Brain or Spinal Cord Injuries
For individuals who have brain or spinal cord injuries and have difficulty controlling their upper body and arms, the use of cuffs that slip over the palm may help them eat better by themselves.
4. Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
There is a range of symptoms that can interfere with the ability to feed themselves for seniors who have multiple sclerosis. Since they suffer from weakened hand strength, built-up utensils may compensate for them. Weighted utensils, on the other hand, may counteract tremors.
5. Parkinson’s Disease and Parkinsonian Disorders
Seniors suffering from Parkinson’s disease and other parkinsonian disorders may experience slowed movements, upper body stiffness, tremors, and other symptoms. With this, the use of weighted utensils may help tame tremors, and utensils with built-up handles can make it easier for them to grasp, even with weakened hands. If the elderly have a limited range of motion, curved or bendable utensils may be helpful.
The elderly who have lived through a stroke usually experience one-sided weakness or paralysis. It can be difficult to adapt to eating with only one hand in use. With this, using rocker knives can help with cutting. The use of cuffs may also help in keeping the utensil in hand without needing a strong grasp. For a limited range of motion, the use of bent or curved utensils may also help. If your loved one is bedridden or has mobility issues, using an overbed table during their mealtime may help. To learn more about it, you may read our Guide to Buying Overbed Tables for more information.
When a senior is suffering from tremors, using weighted flatware may help stabilize tremors by making it easier to eat without losing any food from the utensil.
Eating is indeed a fundamental part of life and not just in order to meet nutritional needs. It can be a rich source of joy, and eating together is an essential way to bond with loved ones, especially the elderly, who often feel isolated and lonely. That is why losing the ability to feed oneself can lead to malnutrition, frustration, embarrassment, depression, and social withdrawal. But with the use of the right eating utensils and equipment, the independence and morale of an elderly loved one can be brought back.
It is also best to consult an occupational therapist to determine what is the best eating utensil for your senior loved one. Having these things can ensure that you can feed your elderly patient or loved one with ease. These will allow them to feed themselves without any assistance, which is a win-win situation for the patient and the caregiver. We hope this post helped you learn more about the essential items that may help elderly patients when eating.
In addition to these tools, there are also useful items that may help elderly patients in opening jars and cans. To learn more about these, check out our list of the Best Easy Jar Openers for Arthritic Hands.