Eatwell: Dinnerware for Dementia PatientsEatwell Dinnerware for Dementia Patients

One of the biggest challenges for dementia patients comes around 3 times a day, at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cognitive changes, memory lapses, and mobility impairments can create issues at every step of the mealtime routine, putting dementia patients at increased risk of dehydration and poor nutrition. One of the easiest ways to make mealtimes easier and more filling for these seniors is to give them the right tools for the job—in this case, dinnerware designed specifically for adults with dementia.

Dementia dinnerware has evolved as researchers and eldercare providers learn more about what patients need, including angled utensils, no-spill cups, and bright plates and bowls. In 2015, a new option has debuted—the Eatwell line of dinnerware from industrial designer Sha Yao, who spent 4 years studying the mealtime needs of seniors with dementia and who cared for her grandmother with Alzheimer’s. Eatwell products are Yao’s “last gift” to her late grandmother, and they won the prestigious international Stanford Design Challenge in 2014. Her designs stem from her own studies and dementia researchers’ findings.

Using visual cues to whet the appetite

Researchers and eldercare specialists have known for a while that boldly colored plates can boost food intake, based on research conducted at Boston University a little over a decade ago. That’s why if you search for dementia dinnerware you’ll find lots of red dinner plates. The color red tends to stimulate the appetite, and Alzheimer’s patients in the BU study ate 25% more food served on red plates than on white plates.

For patients whose food intake doesn’t improve with red plates, experts recommend trying blue plates instead. Blue provides a better contrast with red foods such as beets, tomato sauces, and berries, which makes them easier to see and identify as food. Eatwell’s designs combine a blue plate edged with bold red or bright yellow for both high contrast and appetite stimulation.

Getting a grip on utensils and the scoop on plates and bowls

Fine motor skills decline in people with dementia, so holding and using regular spoons, forks, and knives can be difficult or impossible. Yao’s utensils feature wide, curved handles for an easier grip, and bright colors for easier spotting. The heads of the spoons are angled to make scraping and scooping food easier, and they fit against the angled sides and bottoms of Eatwell plates and bowls so diners spend less time chasing food around the plate with their spoons. The bowls, plates, and cups are also non-slip to keep them in place during meals.

Spill-proofing drinkware for better hydration

Dehydration is a common problem for people with dementia. Swallowing, requesting water, and remembering to drink it can be difficult for some patients. Yao’s cups combine bright colors and non-skid bottoms with other features to make drinking easier. One cup has a specially designed handle for patients with arthritic hands, and another has a no-tip base to reduce spills.

An investment in better nutrition and health

Dementia dinnerware isn’t cheap. A basic plastic “redware” set can cost $35 to $50 at a discount chain or a home healthcare shop, and Eatwell’s sets range from $60 to $110 in price. But because dehydration and poor nutrition can amplify dementia symptoms and cause other health issues, a special dinnerware set may be a good investment if your loved one isn’t eating and drinking enough due to motor-skill decline, disinterest and confusion.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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