For most of us, eating independently is fundamental to our sense of autonomy. We prefer to control the pacing of each bite in order to not feel rushed, to choose when to speak, when to breathe, and to simply enjoy our meals and our mealtime company.
For some of us, gaining or maintaining the ability to eat on our own is not as simple as picking up a conventional fork or spoon. Enter assistive technology and maker solutions!
The world of AT for eating is vast and deep. Below are 10 interesting products and inventions, some new and others tried and true. For more ideas from professionals who understand how abilities can vary, visit your State or Territory AT Program. Each offers free AT product demonstrations and short-term equipment loans that are available to the general public. Bon Appetite!
Billed as “a spoon for shaky hands,” the S’up allows users to securely scoop larger quantities of food for more satisfying eating.
Users fill the spoon from a bowl (or a scoop plate, see below!) and tip the contents into the handle for transferring from bowl to mouth. The spoon was invented in Scotland by a man who has cerebral palsy. It is now available to purchase at the S’up website. See the S’up Spoon in action. (Explore more utensils at Abledata)
Electronic Self-stabilizing Utensils from Liftware and Gyenno
Also for shaky hands, Liftware and Gyenno take a high(er)-tech approach to rethinking utensils. Their electronic spoons absorb tremors to keep food on the spoon as it travels from table to mouth. Liftware has two products: Liftware Steady and Liftware Level. The Level absorbs tipping and tilting, maintaining a level bowl for less spillage. Gyenno’s version of the Liftware Steady boasts an algorithm that will learn the motions and patterns of its user’s tremors and get more effective over time. Both Liftware and Gyenno have spoon and fork attachments. Here is a video comparison distributed by Gyenno (with comments worth reading for anyone in the market for an electronic stabilizing utensil).
Remember that you can try before you buy from your State AT Program short-term device loan program. Many loan program inventories include Liftware utensils.
Parsons Scoop Plate
The Parsons Scoop Plate has a skid-resistant bottom, a wide rim for handling, and asymmetrical depth for scooping or stabilizing food with a fork. It is described as particularly useful for persons with visual impairments but likely it makes eating easier for most people, including children. There is a range of bowls and plates in this category on the market. This one is made in Canada.
EasyHold Universal Cuff
EasyHold is a silicone strap with loop ends that works as a cuff for a variety of uses including holding a fork or spoon. The product comes in packs of different lengths and loop sizes and is marketed for use with children. This is a different cuff concept than the Norco, below, and has a wider range of uses. (Explore more Universal Cuffs at Abledata.)
Norco Universal Quad Cuff
The Norco Cuff is designed to make holding utensils or anything with a handle easier for users with a limited ability to grasp. It includes a thick ergonomic foam grip that holds handles of different sizes and augments hand function and strength. Fully adjustable. Recommended by Jeannie Krull at North Dakota Assistive!
Stable Slide Self-Feeding Support
Another device for users who could use support for eating with a fork or spoon is the Stable Slide Self-Feed Support. Distributed by Performance Health, this device stabilizes the forearm and hand to guide utensils from plate to mouth.
Here’s a low-tech solution from ATinNH Director ThereseWillkomm, Ph.D. The Sushi Susan aids eating independence for those who do not have use of their hands. The device rotates like a Lazy Susan but is adjustable in height to deliver individual bite-sized portions of stabbable food. Users lean forward to eat and use their chin to rotate the Susan to choose their next morsel. The Sushi Susan is collapsible for portability and its forks are removable for loading. Learn more about building one (v 2.0) from this YouTube video featuring Dr. Willkomm.
Mealtime Partner Dining Device
The Mealtime Partner is a robotic spoon and bowl system that allows for selecting among three different dishes. The device can be switch operated by its user or it may be pre-programmed to operate hands-free (by a user leaning forward to eat as the device rotates through the meal). YouTube video of Mealtime Partner in action.
Bear Paw Assistive Eating Aid
This picture does not do the Bear Paw justice. The Bear Paw is a mounted magnet on a pivoting support, designed to hold a loaded metal spoon that a user places with his or her own mouth (or hand) and spins for eating. The video on the Bear Paw website shows a child using one as well as the inventor (who designed what he needed). Check out the Bear Paw website. Also this YouTube of Bear Paw’s creator demonstrating his device.
Obi Robotic Eating Device
Distributed by Kinova, makers of the Jaco II Robotic Arm (featured in this AT3 Center News and Tips post), comes the Obi Robotic Eating Device. Like Mealtime Partners, the Obi allows for switch selection among multiple dishes. Unlike Mealtime Partners, the Obi does not appear to have an autopilot mode. The Obi, however, boasts lightweight portability, easy setup, the ability to learn new locations (by guiding its arm, once, manually), and a sleek design (like if Steve Jobs had designed a robotic eating assistant). See Obi in action (YouTube)