Page last updated at 00:02 GMT, Monday, 11 January 2010

The utensils keeping frail people eating independently

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

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Gregor Timlin explains his inspiration and describes his designs

Designer Gregor Timlin's maternal grandmother was the backbone of her family.

For her, cooking was a pleasure and a joy and she kept her independence as long as possible.

But sadly this is not the case for some of the UK's elderly and frail.

About 700,000 people in the UK have dementia, and more than a third of these live in care homes.

Crockery, tableware and even the tables themselves are in most cases not designed for the less able.

Visiting relatives over the years, Mr Timlin saw staff were often having to "infantilise" residents, feeding and mopping up after them.

So he came up with a range of plates, tablecloths, lighting and tables, which should be available from November, designed to make independent eating possible for longer and with more dignity.

This ultimately allows the dignity of the resident to be maintained
Michalae Thompson
Bupa home manager

"Care homes are the place design forgot," he said.

"There is a double standard, older people in care have no choice but to use designs most carers would be embarrassed to use."

So, working closely with Bupa and the Helen Hamlyn Centre, Mr Timlin visited numerous care homes, spending time with staff and residents to see how he could improve their eating experiences.

He designed:

  • a cup and plate to help those with poor vision, by using colour to ensure the food contrasts with the plate, and make the plate edge visible against the table
  • a high-lipped plate to help people with limited dexterity to keep food on their plate, and a removable microwavable outer layer to keep their food warm for longer
  • a cup with an insulating layer of neoprene to replace childlike double-handled cups by removing the handles and allowing the resident to grab it like a glass
  • a plate shaped so care workers can hold it close to residents unable to feed themselves, meaning they can still see and smell what they are eating
  • a table designed to accommodate wheelchairs so all residents can get close enough to their food to eat, with lights that can be adjusted to compensate for different visual difficulties

Michalae Thompson, home manager at Bupa's Meadbank Nursing Centre in London, which Mr Timlin visited, said she had been very impressed by the designs, which she feels are much needed.

"The problems associated with dementia in relation to eating and drinking result in food being 'chased' around normal plates and the options that are available are quite childlike, such as plate guards and split plates," she said.

"The drinking cups can look like enlarged babies' cups. Also someone with dementia may taker longer to eat and this can cause issues as the food cools and becomes unappetising.

Gregor Timlin
Gregor Timlin says he believes food should be a pleasure

"Gregor has taken into consideration these challenges and come up with designs that do not look out of place in a normal dining room.

"They look stylish while being practical. He has thought about simple but important issues, such as how the plate looks, right through to the issue of how long it may take someone to eat and how the food can be kept warm for longer.

"He has also ensured that the design of each utensil allows the resident to retain their independence for as long as possible. This ultimately allows the dignity of the resident to be maintained."

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said there was certainly a gap in the market and that Mr Timlin's work could even keep people independent longer.

"This initiative could be of great benefit to people with dementia living in care homes, helping them to maintain eating skills for longer and enjoy their food more," she said.

Plates of food
Contrasting colours make the foods easier to see

"Mealtimes are such an important part of the day and eating well is crucial for people with dementia who may otherwise deteriorate more quickly."

Mr Timlin said food was such an important part of his family's life that he wanted others to enjoy it for as long as possible. He said this had been the driving force behind his designs.

"In my house the kitchen was the centre of the home and dinner was the place where we touched base as a family.

"My grandmother was a very strong woman who hated the idea of being dependent, refused to sit in a wheelchair and remained as someone I would seek counsel from until the very end of her days.

"She has shaped my view of older people in a way that will never leave me."



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