Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Improving Nutritional Intake with Assistive Dining Aids

April 13, 2020
assistive dining aids

Many elderly individuals experience self-feeding difficulties stemming from a wide array of health conditions. These difficulties create a vicious cycle—proper nutrition promotes health and healing, but self-feeding problems can create a lack of interest, motivation, or ability to eat. This can lead to improper or insufficient nutrition and prolonged illness.

Clinicians and caregivers can play a vital role in supporting at-risk patients and residents, helping them break out of this cycle and promoting independence in self-feeding.

The Facts: Nutritional Challenges Faced by the Elderly

Multiple studies have shown that 64%-80% of nursing home residents’ food and fluid consumption is lower than the federal criterion.1 Malnutrition is a significant problem among the elderly and often leads to additional health issues, including slower wound healing, development of pressure injuries, and difficulty fighting infection.2

Feeding difficulties are particularly challenging because they can be caused by so many factors. Stiff joints and loss of dexterity due to arthritis can interfere with utensil use. Poor coordination and tremors from conditions such as Parkinson’s disease can make lifting food or drink or opening containers impossible tasks. Limb weakness after a stroke can create challenges with cutting and scooping food onto a fork. Visual deterioration caused by conditions such as glaucoma can significantly impact a person’s ability to locate food on his or her plate. And cognitive impairments or dementia can impact a person’s awareness, problem solving, and motor skills—all making eating an overwhelming task.

Regardless of the underlying cause, self-feeding issues require intervention to provide patients with the best opportunity for improved quality of life.

What Can Caregivers Do to Help?

There are many possible interventions to ensure proper nutritional intake and to promote independence in self-feeding.

  1. Pay close attention to the quality of a patient’s diet to ensure chosen foods contribute to better overall nutritional intake. This can include providing direct nutritional support, including supplements, snacks, and additional fluids between scheduled mealtimes.1
  2. Direct feeding assistance aids patients with physical or cognitive limitations. Ensure patients are placed in the correct, upright position, provide verbal and nonverbal cues and encouragement, and adhere to any diet modifications and safe feeding strategies.
  3. For patients with cognitive issues, a calm environment may also be helpful, with the caregiver staying in the patient’s direct line of sight.1 Appropriate lighting, home-like settings, soothing music, and family-style seating arrangements can also help to promote a renewed interest in meals.3

Tools to Promote Independent Dining

Assistive dining aids can help improve self-feeding ability and promote safety and independence for improving nutritional intake.4 AliMed offers a wide variety of assistive dining aids for use in feeding programs and to promote feeding independence, including:

A comprehensive treatment plan should consider both the patient’s nutritional challenges and self-feeding ability. Based on these factors, the plan should encourage the least restrictive diet, appropriate positioning, an optimal environment, and any adaptive equipment needs to promote feeding independence.

With attention to these beneficial interventions, the vicious cycle of poor nutrition affecting elderly patients’ quality of life can be broken.

Learn more about AliMed’s full line of Assistive Dining Aids.




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