Carers struggle to protect elderly and disabled loved ones from poor nutrition

New research finds that family and friends are grappling with a range of challenges as they help older and disabled loved ones to stay well-nourished and hydrated.

From choosing and buying food to the physical challenges of helping with eating and drinking; Carers UK have teamed up with Designability (who specialise in creating assistive technologies for people living with disabilities and age related conditions) to highlight the need for better information and new products to support carers with nutrition.

An online survey of 265 carers and in-depth focus groups found that unpaid carers are managing physical issues such as difficulty with swallowing, risks of choking and also monitoring whether someone is drinking enough. Carers also described the challenges of motivating the person they care for to eat and drink enough by providing appealing and appetising food.


The problem of finding out what help is available was a common complaint. Whether it was information about a healthy diet, specialist resources for different medical conditions or how to access to different products; most carers highlighted the difficulty in finding what is out there.

Although some carers had used products that helped with the practical aspects of eating and drinking, others found products stigmatising, expensive or impractical.

The research clearly showed an opportunity for innovative design to improve the lives of carers and those they support. From help with shopping, choosing the right food and preparing it to products that help with eating and drinking or help prompt and monitor.

Source: British Red Cross – Flickr. CC: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Madeleine Starr MBE, Director of Innovation at Carers UK, said: “The vast majority of those at risk of poor nutrition or hydration live in the community, in their own homes or with their family.

“For carers, ensuring their loved ones are eating and drinking well is a key concern and this research shows the many challenges they face.

“As more of us provide support for relatives and friends, often juggling caring responsibilities with work or parenting younger children we need products that fit with the new realities of our busy lives.

“This research lays down a challenge to designers and technologists to explore practical solutions to help those with diverse care needs to enjoy a healthy diet.”

Jess Ridgers, Product Designer at Designability said: “Supporting another person to eat and drink the right things is difficult and complex so it’s understandably a key worry for carers.

“This research shows that there are many opportunities for inclusive design to inform the development of more and better products to help carers support others to eat and drink well. We hope that our findings will be the start of a bigger conversation leading to innovative solutions.”

The research was supported by Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition who provided an unrestricted grant that enabled Carers UK and Designability to carry out primary research activities with carers and professionals.

Kate Hall, Head of External Affairs UK, Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition said: “Ensuring everyone obtains adequate nutrition and hydration is a fundamental right and integral to health and well-being, yet it is often assumed that such needs are being met.

“This research demonstrates the scale of the problem and provides essential insights into the key stumbling blocks faced by those caring for someone who needs help eating and drinking.

“We welcome this important research and support all progress aimed at improving both the design of, and access to a better nutritional solution for carers.”

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