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 in partnership with Carers UK in order to reach as many carers as possible across the UK to understand everyday challenges around managing nutrition.

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

In the UK, 1 in 8 adults (around 6.5 million people) are carers.

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

Consulting with carers

In 2017, Carers UK and Designability invited carers to comment on nutrition in an online survey. Over 250 carers took the time to give us their thoughts.

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 the survey 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

In addition, two focus groups were held at the Carers UK offices in London which were attended by 16 carers.

Carers UK ran the first half of the session, where they invited each person to say a bit 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 attendees were asked 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.

Carers described providing long-term assistance around eating and drinking, which involves multiple tasks every day that are critical to maintaining nutrition for health and well-being.

Many people being cared for had special dietary requirements. Over 90 carers were providing physical help with eating and drinking.

Carers say ensuring the person cared for is eating and drinking well is challenging and can be very tiring. Carers provided help with choosing, preparing and consuming food several times a day and demonstrated that they were addressing very high dependency needs in relation to nutrition and hydration.

Can products be helpful?

Many carers reported searching for and using products to help with nutrition. Carers who had experience of using products gave some positive reports that these were useful or safer.

Reasons for not using products included: lack of information about what is available, perception of stigma, high cost, and their usefulness only being partially successful or time limited.

Opportunities for innovation of new products and services

Carers commented on their specific challenges and described ways that they currently use products or things they thought may be useful – to make mealtimes easier and more enjoyable.

The following are the areas identified by carers that represent opportunities for the design of new products and services:

  • Access to information and sharing of ideas
  • Co-ordinating meals and sharing responsibility
  • Enabling choice while providing healthy meals
  • Facilitating drinking and monitoring hydration
  • Practicalities of eating (eating in an armchair, or in bed)

Future plans

Designability and Carers UK are looking into these findings further, and plan to continue to work with carers in developing ways to make the task of ensuring healthy eating and drinking easier and more enjoyable.

Our aim is to produce practical solutions to these common, everyday issues and to achieve this we are seeking further funding.

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