Most stroke survivors strive for independence regardless of their limitations after their incident. Being independent is a great way to combat depression, feel good about yourself, and take some of the pressure off your caregiver. Even if you can only do a few things by yourself, it is important to do those things and to try to do as many other skills as possible. Eating by yourself is often considered an essential exercise for most stroke survivors. Besides bathroom skills, eating by yourself is usually at the top of the list.
However, eating with one arm paralyzed or facial droop can make the act challenging. You may be surprised to know that several medical supply companies have developed specialized tools to help stroke survivors gain this piece of independence. Your best source of information for modifications in this area is your occupational therapist. They can help you develop the skills to perform the activities of daily living, such as eating. As a result, they are a wealth of information for the stroke survivor and caregiver. If your therapist has not already suggested the following modifications, it may be beneficial to mention them, emphasizing your desire for independent eating.
Tabletops present the first problem for stroke survivors who want to eat independently. Most tables are either too high or too low for independent eating. For instance, if you are in a wheelchair, you may not be able to comfortably reach the table with your legs underneath the tabletop. Similarly, with a low table, you may not be able to span the space between the table and your mouth. You should experiment with tables at different heights to find the best one for you. Low tables are best for those in wheelchairs and high tables are for those with weaker arms.
Another problem with tabletops is that they are often slick. Even with a cloth on the table, it is easy to push the bowl or plate around if you are only using one hand. In this case, a great piece of equipment called Dycem can help to keep the plate stable. It is essentially a piece of rubber that grips both the table and the plate. This allows you to put as much pressure on one side of the plate or bowl without it skidding out from underneath your hand. Some placemats may also help with this problem and help keep bowls from moving. Non-slip shelf liner is another possibility for keeping the plate stable.
Bowls and Dishes
Bowls and dishes can present a problem as well. It is easy to push food around the dish and straight off the other side onto the tablecloth. This is embarrassing as well as frustrating for the stroke survivor, but there is equipment that can help with this problem. Many dishes are on the market now that have a side of the plate curled upward. You can push the food against this wall, get the food on the utensil, and then lift it to your mouth independently. Of course, this is not fine china and is made of plastic, but it will allow you to eat by yourself without the frustration of migrating food.
Bowls can be difficult, too. It is easy to knock them over and cause a spill. Sometimes it is hard to eat the contents of a bowl, since they are liquid, but bowls can help with the migrating food issue. For stroke survivors, wide bottom, non-skid bowls are available that can keep them from tipping over. They taper toward the top, helping you to push food onto your fork or spoon. Bowls are a great alternative to plates because they often don’t result in spilling the food when they are of the proper, wide bottomed shape.
Forks, Spoons, and Knives
Finally, the forks, spoons, and knives you use can affect how independent you are with eating. Often, a traditional fork isn’t very useful. With hands that are crippled by contractions or paralysis, the simple act of holding one of these slender items is more difficult than any of the other problems. You should get utensils that have handles on them that can allow for a better grip. Sometimes, a widened, rubberized end to the fork or spoon can allow for enough bulk that you can use it yourself.
In circumstances when you are unable to use your hands in any controlled situation, there are forks and spoons that have handles and are bent. These utensils actually have a slot where you can fit your fingers in and aim the business end of the utensil at your food. This will help you to scoop up your food, despite how weak your arms and fingers may be. Most stroke survivors will be unable to cut their own food, and often caregivers have to help with this particular skill. However, if you eat items that don’t require cutting, it is possible to be entirely independent while eating, depending on the severity of your stroke.