As an occupational therapist, my goal is to help people be more independent and functional in everyday activities. One-sided weakness, decreased grip strength, dexterity issues, or manipulation issues can cause someone to have difficulty getting food from plate to mouth. Using adaptive equipment can make the process easier and less frustrating.
Just like I mentioned in my article, The Threefold Approach to Recovery, you can use adaptive or compensatory strategies and still work on improving the underlying skill. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
My skills and expertise lie in something called activity or task analysis. That means being able to break down the components that make up an activity.
For this article, this means looking at each component of eating and determining underlying issues that might get in the way of doing it successfully. What do we need to be able to feed ourselves?
- Perception to understand where the food is on our plate.
- Sitting balance and core strength to sit upright in a chair.
- Grip strength, in-hand manipulation, and dexterity to control our utensils.
- Wrist, elbow, and shoulder range of motion to bring our hand to our mouth.
- Functional cognition to process and sequence the steps (e.g., food on the fork, then fork to mouth).
- A positive or neutral emotional state.
This article is focused on that third point. Decreased grip strength, manipulation, and dexterity are some of the most common and frustrating issues when trying to feed yourself after a stroke.
A universal cuff is one of my favorite tools. It’s also multi-use. You may initially get it to help you feed yourself, but it can also help you shave, brush your teeth, etc. A universal cuff is especially helpful for people with limited grip strength. It actually holds utensils for you.
They’re also pretty inexpensive, ranging from $8-12 on Amazon. I like the Sammons Preston universal cuff as it’s pretty tough and won’t wear out quickly like some other brands.
Something to keep in mind with universal cuffs is that the slip your utensils go into is narrow. If your utensils are wide, you may consider either purchasing a wider universal cuff or picking up a couple of cheap, thin pieces of silverware at a local dollar store or thrift store.
Foam tubing is an awesome tool that has a lot of uses. You can buy a multi-pack that has tubing with different diameters to accommodate a wide variety of objects. With the varying diameters, you can build up utensils, toothbrushes, razors, pens/pencils, etc.
It currently runs around $10 for a multi-pack. I’ve recommended foam tubing to many of my clients, and they’ve all had good results.
Foam tubing is especially helpful if you have decreased grip strength or manipulation issues. It gives more surface area to hold onto than a traditional piece of silverware
Adaptive Utensil Set
A lot of people have the misconception that adaptive silverware is really expensive. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some costly options out there. But you can also find adaptive utensil sets, like the one pictured below, for around $10.
One advantage of built-up silverware is that it’s something you can bring with you out to eat. You may run into issues with foam tubing or a universal cuff not fitting other silverware outside your home. Having a personalized set means that you can bring it with you out to eat or to family gatherings and know that it will work for you.
Scoop bowls and plates are another relatively inexpensive way to make eating easier. They have small lips on the side to make getting food onto your utensil easier. These are best for someone with manipulation or coordination issues that make it difficult to scoop or pierce food with a utensil.
Something to keep in mind is that you can use a scoop bowl in combination with foam tubing, built-up silverware, or a universal cuff. It’s all about finding what setup works best for you.
Non-slip cabinet shelf liner isn’t so much a tool to actually feed yourself, but it will make the process easier. If you’re using a regular plate or bowl, sometimes they can slide around on the table when you’re trying to get food onto your utensil. This can be super frustrating.
Putting a small piece of non-slip shelf liner underneath your dinnerware can solve this problem. You can usually find a small roll at a dollar store near you.
You can use shelf liner in conjunction with any of the other pieces of adaptive equipment I’ve talked about today. Again, it’s about customizing your setup to work for you.
Using adaptive equipment can help you remain functional and independent while you continue to improve the underlying issues that are causing difficulty.
*These are Amazon affiliate links from which I earn a small percentage of qualifying purchases at no cost to you. However, I only recommend products that I’ve tried or my clients have tried with good success.