AT for Independence in the kitchen Part 1: Adapted Meal Prep Devices

Mary, an elderly grandmother, wants to teach her grandchildren her secret family recipe, but arthritis, dominant hand tremors and failing vision prevent her from using her standard kitchen apparatus.

Caleb, a 20 year old with Cerebral Palsy, wants to move out and live on his own, but due to functional limitations in his arms and hands his family is worried about his ability to make himself meals if no caregiver is available.

Sarah, a mother diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, wants to continue the family tradition of hosting Sunday night family meals for her grown children and their families, but due to muscle weakness she in unable to safely use standard kitchen tools.

Laura, a 25 year old with a recently acquired Spinal Cord Injury, wants to keep hosting girls night get togethers, but limited arm range of motion and grip strength present challenges for preparing food without assistance.

Nothing brings a family and friends together the way food can. Food centered activities offers so many opportunities for meaningful moments in an individual and family’s life. Cooking is an activity that presents opportunities for independence, enjoyment and social engagement for friends and families. However, for many individuals mealtime activities present significant, if not insurmountable challenges due to physical challenges or safety concerns.

In this 3 part blog series we will explore assistive technology that can help make mealtimes more accessible and help create opportunities that increase independence, safety and social-relational experiences.  

Let’s start at the beginning.

Traditionally, most meal prep tasks are best performed with the use of two, steady, well coordinated hands, not to mention the visual-perceptual skills that are also required. This series of tasks can present challenges for individuals with disabilities that affect dexterity, range of motion, grip and vision skills.

Good news!  There is assistive technology that can help.

I could not possibly cover all options, but we will look at a couple of options with broad applications for meal prep tasks: Adapted cutting boards and adapted knives.

Adapted cutting boards and cutting surfaces

These help convert two-handed meal prep tasks into one handed tasks. Several commercially available adapted cutting boards exist.  They have similar features, such as suction and non-slip bases. All have some option for securing food in place, whether by raised edges, pins or vice -like clamps.  These features allow the individual to secure food to the surface and then cut, spread or prep using only one hand.  This can also allow the individual to have a 2nd hand free to aid in balance if needed. They can be placed on tables, counters and even wheelchair trays.  One option has a knife attached on a pivot to increase safety related to tremors or limited grip.  This is even helpful for individuals who have an ability to use two hands, but has unsteady hands. It is not all about cutting.  For example, using the raised edges in the corner, you can place a piece of bread and spread peanut butter and jelly without having to hold the bread in place.

Adapted Knives

There are several types of adapted knives, but my preference is a rocker style knife.  This model of knife helps an individual who cannot exhibit the needed pressure to cut food with the first effort.  They can rock the knife back and forth until they make the cut.  There are horizontal and vertical grips available to allow for the most comfortable and functional arm/wrist positioning. These grip options improve the safety of cutting for an individual with reduced grip strength, tremors, joint range of motion or pain issues.  

Utilizing an adapted cutting surface and knife creates opportunities to improve independence and participation in cooking and meal prep activities. For an individual with a disability, increased participation in meal time can lead to noticeable differences in an individual’s social engagement, independence and quality of life.  For members of their family there can be a reduction of stress and worry, as well as an increase in their enjoyment of family activities those of us without a disability take for granted.

Be on the watch for Part 2 of the series where we explore assistive technology to aid in the measuring aspect of cooking activities!

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