Assisting someone with eating and drinking

Assisting someone with eating and drinking

Some people may not be able to eat and drink independently, and therefore may need assistance from another person. There could be a number of reasons someone may not be able to feed themselves, such as inability to lift hands to mouth, uncontrolled movements or memory problems. Here are some useful tips to follow if you need to assist someone at mealtimes.

  • Ensure that the dining environment is set up correctly. The dining chair should be supportive and allow the person to sit in a comfortable and upright position, as this will help maintain a good posture for eating and drinking (Mastos, Miller, Eliasson and Imms, 2007). Read our advice on setting up the dining environment here.
  • Wherever possible, allow the person you are assisting to be in control of the meal. They should be able to eat at their own pace and select the foods to eat next.
  • If you provide hands-on assistance, position yourself in front or slightly to one side of the person you are helping, so they can see you and communicate more easily.However, if this is too much of a distraction for the person you are helping, positioning yourself at their side may be more appropriate (Mastos, Miller, Eliasson and Imms, 2007).
  • Positioning the meal directly in front of the person may help them see the meal more easily, allowing them to choose what they would like to eat next. A cantilever table may be useful for this.
  • Try to encourage the person to do as much as they can for themselves. For example, if the person you are helping can lift the fork or spoon to their mouth, you may only need to help with cutting food and loading it onto the fork or spoon. People with memory problems may only need verbal prompts rather than hands-on assistance (Mastos, Miller, Eliasson and Imms, 2007).
  • Overloading a spoon or fork may cause spillages, smaller mouthfuls are usually more manageable. A spoon or fork with a shallow bowl may help ensure smaller mouthfuls are given.
  • Try to give help discreetly, especially if dining with others. For example, if food needs to be cut up it may be a good idea to do this before bringing it to the table, rather than in view of others at the table.
  • Protective clothing, such as a bib or apron may be needed if spillage is likely to occur during eating.
Advice last checked: 26 January 2018 Next check due: 26 January 2021

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
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  1. Mastos, M., Miller, K., Eliasson, A.C. and Imms, C. 2007  Goal-directed training: linking theories of treatment to clinical practice for improved functional activities in daily life
    Clinical Rehabilitation   Vol.21(1)   p47-55 Evidence type: 3