Eating and drinking: daily living aids that make life easier


For people with Parkinson's disease or paralysis, it's not always easy to put food into their mouths. It often doesn't end up in their mouth, but next to the plate instead. To avoid needing to be fed, people with disabilities can choose among various assistive devices – depending on their needs. Ergonomically contoured utensils or tools to assist in grasping items are available to help.

Image: Hand holds a ball with a pen writing the word "Gripoballs", another hand holds a toothbrush ; Copyright: Gripoballs

With the approximately 15 grams heavy rubber balls you can hold pens and cutlery easier; © Gripoballs

Aside from well-known assistive devices such as plates with raised rims, curved cutlery or cups with spout lids, there are also many new inventions designed to make everyday life easier. Case in point, Gripoballs:

People with rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis often have difficulties in holding everyday items in their hands without shaking or dropping them. That’s why the Gripoballs Company from Belgium has developed a product of the same name. Forks, knives, scissors or toothbrushes are much easier to grasp with the help of a rubber ball that is 4 centimeters in diameter and weighs 15 grams (0.5 ounces). A slit in the ball enables a comfortable grip to hold on to these items. The texture and weight of the Gripoball can be customized with small metal balls, so-called Gripograms, which ensure a good grip.

Image: Hand holds a fork, ergonomically contoured utensils and strawberrys behind; Copyright: etac GmbH

The compay etacs produces assistment products for individual needs, for example ergonomically contoured utensils; © etac

Focus on product weight and designs

According to Rainer Classen, who is in charge of daily living aids at the etac GmbH Company, there is no "one" tool for eating and drinking." Assistive devices like utensils or gripping tongs are individual and custom. Our 'aktiv' gripping tongs — currently the lightest tongs available on the market - feature a net weight between 110 and 200 grams (3.8 to 7 ounces), depending on the user’s grip strength". The tongs are primarily suited for people suffering from gout or finger issues as well as people who are not able to bend down and retrieve items off the floor. Objects weighing up to two kilograms can be picked up with this tool. Classen says, the functionality per se cannot be improved much more. Users, on the other hand, are very interested in colorful designs.

Etac also developed a cutting board for visually impaired and blind people. "These individuals are able to gain some level of personal autonomy thanks to a guard rail for the knife that won’t allow the blade to slide off when they cut bread" adds Classen. The needs of the individual are also key when it comes to choosing cutlery. "We feature custom angled utensils for left- and right-handed persons. However, grip strength as well as the weight of the items, also play a role in maintaining balance in this instance. Lighter objects are better".

Image: electronical spoon; Copyright: Liftware

With this stabilizing device people with Parkinson's disease can eat easier; © Liftware

Sensor and motor ensure stability at mealtimes

That said, not everyone is able to use the utensils since every hand is different and requires different flatware. "Custom-made solutions or adaptations required for the grippers are custom tailored to the patient, for instance by occupational therapists in hospitals," explains an employee from the resource portal REHADAT.

Engineers and scientists of the product line Liftware, have specifically developed a small stabilizing device to assist people with Parkinson's disease and those suffering from tremors and whose hands shake frequently. The device features multiple attachments: a fork as well as various spoons. The product includes a sensor and a tiny onboard computer which detect the movements of the hand and work to stabilize the utensils. To do this, the motor moves the handle in the opposite direction. This way, a patient with Parkinson’s disease can use it, its shaking is reduced by 71-76 percent. And he is able to have a meal without spilling too much. The motor starts as soon as both components are being connected. Once you place the spoon on the table, the sleep mode turns on automatically.
Image: robot takes a candy with a spoon; Copyright: beta-web GmbH

Post-polio patient Sten Hemmingsson developed the assistment robot "Bestic"; © beta-web GmbH

Post-polio patient invents assistive device

"Active gripping aids such as Gripability or robotic arms that can also be used at the workplace are also popular", explains an employee from REHADAT. These tiny robots assume the job of caregivers or family members and feed people with neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease for instance. The Swedish Company Bestic AB also developed this type of technology. The company already presented its "Bestic" assistive device that shares the name of the enterprise to interested visitors at REHACARE 2015.  "The device can be controlled with a joystick or a button", explains Catherina Borgenstierna, CEO of Bestic AB. An electronically controlled arm subsequently guides the spoon to the mouth. "There are four available user profiles. You can adjust the optimal height and alignment of the spoon for each person". The device was invented by Sten Hemmingsson. At age 15, he came down with post-polio syndrome and didn’t want his wife to have to feed him. "He did not want to be a patient in his own home. He wanted to be independent and self-sufficient", adds Borgenstierna. The device is also suitable for children.

These are just some of the assistive devices that make everyday life for people with disabilities easier when they grasp things. Having said that, scientists and experts continuously work on designing new products and try to improve already existing tools. After all, these various daily helpers ensure that people with disabilities maintain or regain their independence and don’t have to necessarily rely on outside help for assistance.

More about the portal REHADAT at:
Image: Lorraine Dindas; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

This article was written by Lorraine Dindas and translated from German by Elena O'Meara.

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