LIVEResearch Projects

Addressing the challenges around nutrition for carers and the people they care for

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A woman at the dining table looking at a cookbook with her mother

We are working with Carers UK in order to reach as many carers as possible across the UK for this important study into nutritional needs.

What is needed

Many people find it a challenge to try and ensure that the person they care for is able to eat and drink well. These challenges are not only related to physical difficulties, but also to the emotional consequences of being less able to eat or drink independently.

We are looking to improve poor nutrition by investigating ideas for practical technology for carers and the cared for e.g. nutrition monitoring, helpful packaging, usability of microwave ovens, intelligent kitchen aids and adaptations.

Who will benefit

1 in 8 adults (around 6.5 million people) are carers. By 2037, it’s anticipated that the number of carers will increase to 9 million. Every day another 6,000 people take on a caring responsibility – that equals over 2 million people each year.

We hope that whatever solution we come up with will help to alleviate some of the challenges that carers face when helping the person they look after to eat and drink well.

Consulting with carers

We developed an online survey with Carers UK to find out how carers help the person they look after to choose, prepare and consume food and drink to stay healthy and well.

We collected information about the carer and the person they care for and included questions which covered the following topic areas:

  • Providing help with eating and drinking
  • Shopping and preparing food and drink
  • Encouraging or prompting a person to eat or drink
  • Practical help with eating and drinking
  • Eating and drinking well
  • Products to help with eating and drinking

Hazel, User Interface Engineer and Jess, Industrial Designer, joined forces with Madeleine, Director of Business Development, Carers UK and Maria, Research and Development Manager, Carers UK, to run two focus groups with 16 carers at the Carers UK offices. Carers UK ran the first half of the session, where they went around the group and asked people to tell us a bit more about themselves, and followed this up with a questionnaire around some of the specific problems each carer faced in caring for people/a person in their life.

Designability then took the reins and carried out various activities, including ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’, where we asked attendees to share their thoughts on existing products or services; from those that they couldn’t live without, to those that haven’t worked so well and to those that are downright ‘ugly’. We also asked everyone to take us through a typical day for them:

  • What are the key challenges they face?
  • What opportunities arise at particular points in the day?

What we know so far

Our online survey received 265 responses which gave us detailed information on how carers support the person they care for to eat and drink well. The majority of these carers were older and female and many were caring for older people.  Younger carers and those caring for young people were under represented. Physical disability and age related conditions were strongly represented.

Many people being cared for had multiple conditions and 20% had a diagnosis of dementia. Most care was provided in the same house or locally and was substantial (over 50 hours of care weekly) and long term (over 10 years). 40% of carers indicated they were the sole providers of care, where help was provided it was from a combination of close family members (spouse, parent or child) and formal carers.

We will shortly be publishing a report which will present data from:

  • The 2 focus groups with 16 carers
  •  Semi structured interviews with 6 professionals

Assistance provided by carers with eating and drinking

Many people being cared for had special dietary requirements. The management of diabetes was an issue, especially for people living with dementia. Another challenge highlighted was the need for a soft food diet to make chewing and swallowing easier.

Most carers provided help with choosing, preparing and consuming food several times a day. Carers demonstrated that they were addressing very high dependency needs in relation to nutrition and hydration.