Give a Helping Hand

To people who are sick, weak, or injured, good nutrition is often the best medicine! Regardless of age, those with difficulty feeding themselves may need a caring, helping hand.

If you offer help, make mealtime pleasant:

  • Help with hand washing before and after eating. Use a wet, soapy washcloth or premoistened towels or a hand sanitizer if the person can't get to the sink. Offer a towel for drying.
  • Make sure that the food is the right consistency. You might need to chop or puree it if chewing is difficult.
  • Let the person decide what foods to eat first, next, and so on. Even when people can't feed themselves, most want to feel in control of their lives.
  • For dignity's sake, provide a napkin or an apron to help him or her keep clean.
  • Offer some finger foods to eat independently. For example, try banana slices, orange sections, bread (cut in quarters), a soft roll, cheese sticks, or meat (sliced in strips).
  • Offer a drink between bites to help with chewing and swallowing. Provide a straw and a cup that's not too big. You can always pour more.
  • Consider how far the person can reach for a cup or a dish. Arrange the place setting for easy reach.
  • Sit together at the same level as you offer food. Share pleasant conversation in a normal tone, even if you need to do all the talking. To be sure you understand a response, repeat or rephrase it.
  • Relax and be patient. Encourage self-expression of any kind. The meal should not feel rushed, especially if the person has trouble chewing or swallowing.
  • Offer small bites, and suggest a spoon rather than a fork. It's easier for holding food and less likely to jab his or her mouth.
  • If you can, eat your meal at the same time to continue the joy and the normalcy of social interaction at mealtime.
  • Clean any spills right away. You might keep a clean cloth handy.
  • Most important, respect the person's needs and desires. Expect frustration, and handle it without a negative reaction. Counting on others for personal care can be emotionally difficult.
  • Let the nurse or other caregivers know what and how much the person has eaten. In that way other meals and snacks can be adjusted accordingly.

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