Meal times can be one of the challenges of living with certain disabilities. Loss of fine motor control in the hands and arms makes using cutlery more difficult. Keeping forks and spoons steady enough is tough if tremors and shaking are significant.
Using standard knives, forks and spoons can be hard for people in this situation. Many find their narrow handles tricky to grasp or control with accuracy. Luckily, special disability aids are available which help.
Bendable and Curved Cutlery
Being unable to angle a fork or spoon into the mouth is a common problem. Sometimes using cutlery with an offset head is of benefit. Some forks and spoons have the head angle fixed at just off 90 degrees. Others have bendable heads which can be set to the angle most comfortable for the user to direct properly.
Curved cutlery serves a similar purpose. It generally has a sweeping curvature through the handle and head, making it easier to direct into the mouth without too much wrist flex.
Using ‘non-straight’ cutlery can also help with slicing food on the plate. Again, controlling conventional knives can be difficult. L-shaped knives use more of the palm of the hand and don’t need the finger control of standard knives. This type of knife, which has the handle and blade at 90 degrees to each other, retains the wrist in a more stable position.
‘Rocker knives’ are another alternative if cutting food is difficult. These have large, curved blades. Rocking them back and forth on the plate’s surface cuts the food, reducing the amount of downward pressure required.
Table knives with ordinary, fairly dull edges can be difficult to cut food with if you have diminished co-ordination or strength. Serrated blades are sometimes preferable as you may find they cut through food more easily.
Cutlery with Special Handles
The handle of a metal piece of cutlery is usually quite narrow. For some people with reduced motor-control, wider, heavier handles are easier to hold steady. Foam tubing is available which fits over standard handles. This makes them wider and easier to maintain in a stable position.
Some ranges of cutlery have handles which are ‘built-up’, or oversized, for just this reason. These wide-handled items require less pressure from the fingers to hold and control.
Weighted knives and forks do a similar job. Their extra weight means they are less prone to shake in the hand, making control easier.
Wider handles also tend to be gentler on the hands for those with arthritis. The condition often afflicts the fingers and the tight pressure required for knives and forks can be painful. Some have contours which are sympathetic to the fingers, making them more comfortable to use.
Flexible handled cutlery loosely fastens to the hand and reduce the chances of dropping it. These items have extra-long, bendable handles which wrap around the wrist, holding them in place.
Another clever idea is having a fork and a knife built into one item of cutlery. This inventive solution is ideal for people who only have the use of one hand.
Some disabilities affect the bite reflex. This can be quite dangerous if the person bites down too hard on a metal fork or spoon. Special cutlery is available which has an extra-tough plastic coating, so the individual is less at risk of damaging their teeth.
Disability aids like this often go hand-in-hand with non-slip mats which prevent bowls and plates from sliding around on table tops. Scoop bowls or those with high sides are also useful at mealtimes, if food is prone to spillage.
Using a Chair Table
For people who have difficulty standing up and sitting down from an armchair, a chair table of some kind might be a solution. These items allow the user to remain sitting down in a low chair without needing to rise.
A chair table which sits in your lap can be unstable, so it is better to have a more solid surface if possible. These work in the same was an overbed table you might see in hospital wards, but are lower and designed for armchairs or even sofas. They slide or roll beneath the furniture and provide a stable surface from which to eat.