Taking Care When Eating and Drinking
A balanced diet and good hydration is important for general health and mobility.
If a person is unable to swallow safely, consult their GP or Speech Therapist.
To eat and drink independently and safely a person needs to be seated in a supported upright position, with food and drink within easy reach, so that they can hold the cutlery, scoop food from the plate, lift food and drink up to their mouth and safely swallow. When food is too far away or trying to eat or drink when sitting in an armchair, a wheelchair or in bed, they will have to work hard just to stay supported and upright and will be less able to use their strength effectively to eat and drink independently.
Swallow and digestion are more difficult when in a slumped or leaning position in a chair or a bed.
Find a safe and stable position for eating and drinking.
Use a dining chair at the table for a steady upright position. A chair with arms gives good support and a cushion tucked each side, held in place by the armrest, will give stability when eating and drinking.
Chairs can have wheels or sliders fitted to move the chair closer to the table, like the Millie-Mova from BESRehab.
If the person has to eat while in an armchair, an over chair table with legs that span the width of the chair will help get the food as close as possible to the person when eating so they avoid a slumped position. If using a cantilever table, get it as close as possible by sliding it in from the front of the chair. A bean bag tray may be a safe way to hold the cup and plate close enough for eating and safe swallow. Sitting in a wheelchair may not give a good position for meals. Transfer to a more supportive chair at the table or adjust armrests and footplates to get as close as possible to the dining table. Or use a wheelchair tray, a cantilever table or bean bag tray to get food close to the person and in a good position for independent eating and drinking.
If eating and drinking in bed, support the person to sit upright with pillows or a backrest for a safe swallow position. A tray or an over bed table should be used so that the person in bed can be as upright as possible to avoid leaning or slumping when eating or drinking. If they are in a profiling bed then the controls can be used to adjust the bed to be in a better position for eating and swallowing, if the person feels safe in that position.
Choosing cutlery, plates and cups for safe eating and drinking
When the person is seated in a supported position, they can use their strength and movement to eat and drink safely and independently. A careful choice or plates, cups and cutlery can also help to make eating and drinking easier.
If using one hand to eat, a non-slip mat will help to stabilise a cup and plate on the tray or table. A plate with a raised edge, like a pasta dish, may help when scooping food or plate guards can be clipped onto the plate to give a raised edge to help with scooping. A ‘spork’ is a mixture of a fork and spoon which can be useful if eating with one hand and a rocker knife has a rocking cut action so that the food can be cut using one hand.
If weak grip makes if difficult to hold cutlery securely when eating, padding can be added to cutlery to make it easier to grip or a cutlery strap can hold cutlery securely without the need to grip, when eating.
If arm movement is difficult, spoons with an angled handle may help to get food to the mouth.
When someone has a tremor this can make eating with cutlery difficult, the Sup’ spoon can help to keep the food on the spoon and some people find weighted cutlery dampens the tremor when eating. Powered eating devices are available to enable a person to eat independently.
If holding or tipping a cup is difficult; try an insulated cup with a large handle, or a cup with 2 handles or a clip on extra handle. Cups with a sipping lid or a non-spill insert can help if tremor is causing spills but cups with a spout send liquid to the back of the mouth and may affect safe swallow.
Restricted head movement can make drinking difficult, as we tip our head back to drink from a cup. There are cups with a cut away side, for drinking without the need to tip the head back.Some cups like these from Ornamin are designed with a cone shaped insert to help drain the liquid without tipping the head back.
When difficulty with understanding or orientation affect eating and drinking;
Familiar cutlery, plates and cups help a person to remember this familiar activity. Avoid patterned plates, and table cloths,as food can be lost or unrecognised in the pattern.
Choose manageable, familiar food so the person can use retained skills at meal times. If cutlery is no longer manageable, consider food that can be eaten without cutlery.
Alerts can be set on phones, tablets and via apps to remind a person to eat and drink.
Talk to our team about other solutions for eating. See our ‘eating and drinking equipment advice’ page