A lot of times in providing care for seniors struggling with dementia and other issues, having a sense of humor really helps. Just ask dietitian Suzanne Fleming, MS, RDN, LD, of McPherson Hospital in McPherson, Kan., to tell you the hot pink sippy cup story—worth a chuckle, but indicative of a very real problem in senior dining.
“One area where we struggle is with cups,” Fleming says. “A few weeks ago, we had a patient who could no longer use a straw; she couldn’t suck with it, and she kept spilling liquids trying to drink from a regular cup.”
Fleming’s improvised solution was to borrow a sippy cup from occupational therapy so “the patient could tilt the cup and get liquid out in a controlled manner that didn’t require sucking,” she says. “However, you talk about dignity—it was a hot pink sippy cup and she was 90-some years old!”
Hoping for less improvisation and more deliberate planning that can help everyone dine with dignity, Fleming is turning a laser focus onto everything that’s happening during mealtimes at the 49-bed, acute-care, not-for-profit hospital. She’s encouraging staff to pay closer attention to the feeding process, allowing them to identify which patients may need such things as a softer-texture diet or finger foods.
Currently, the foodservice team at McPherson is using a few different specialized dining utensils that have been working, and manufacturers are collaborating with healthcare providers to come up with new ideas. Here are a few staple tableware items that are readily available now:
• Silverware with larger handles: This silverware is easier for older hands to grip onto.
• Bowls and plates with more pronounced, higher sides: This allows the diner to use the leverage to scoop up bites of food more easily.
• Concave rims: Also helps with getting food onto the fork or spoon.
• Brightly colored banded edges: This helps seniors with reduced vision, mobility and motor skills, but doesn’t call attention to that—it looks like a decorative plate with a strip.
• Divided plates (aka, welled trays): This works by the same principal as the higher sides mentioned above, and also keeps components separate on the plate and is great for purees and portion control.
• Cups: Plastic “sippy cups” don’t always have to look like they’re made for kids. Color and style make the difference here.