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Helping with Eating

Caregiving Tips. April 17, 2017

People with Parkinson's find eating a challenge, in part because the loss of muscle control and coordination make it harder to manipulate a fork or spoon, and in part because the tremors slop the food off the utensil. One solution is the children's ditty:

I eat my peas with honey.
I've done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife.

More conventionally, there are utensils adapted to help people with disabilities. The value of these devices depends on the abilities of the person using them: many of them won't help. But many will and new products are always being developed. You can find a selection online—look up "medical assistive devices"—or at medical supply stores. Give them a try.

If you serve soup in a mug instead of a bowl, the person can drink it like a cup of coffee or with a straw if the soup is thin like broth. If it's a soup with chunky vegetables, try putting only the broth in the cup. Put the vegetables into a separate bowl to be eaten with a fork.

We found a useful device called a "food bumper": a plastic rim that clips to a dinner plate creating a lip that the person can use to push food onto a fork or spoon. It's available from most medical supply stores.

If tremors make drinking difficult, try using a sealed cup—the kind most coffee stores offer—with a straw. Spilling from that takes talent and resolve.

Sandwiches can be a problem if the contents slide out. The sandwiches I make for Sandra have a thin layer of condiments and no extras such as tomatoes or lettuce. If we're eating out and she orders a hamburger, I remove everything but the patty. I cut up the other contents so she can use a fork or spoon. I also cut the sandwiches into quarters because they're easier to handle. And the supersized monster burgers some places serve? Even I can't eat them.

I bought a sandwich maker that pinches the edges of the bread together, keeping the contents inside the pocket it creates. It's much more convenient.

Food that can be speared is preferable to food that has to be balanced on a fork or spoon. Boiled or roasted potatoes are easier to eat than rice. Steamed vegetables are easier than pureed. And unfortunately for your budget, steak is better than meatloaf unless your loved one has trouble swallowing. In that case, solid foods like steak can lodge in her throat and choke her. Use soft foods or cut the steak into fine slices.