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Visitors can sometimes be the best people to help support a patient during mealtimes

Julie Cooper in North Yorkshire sent us the following question.

'Is it possible that a spouse, relative, carer or friends can take it in turns to visit the patient over mealtimes to support and encourage the patient with eating and drinking?'

We have looked into this and these are my (Jill's) thoughts.....

Although it would be important to check with staff, it is often possible for relatives and friends to help a loved one at mealtimes. Many people, who need help with feeding, would far rather be helped by someone close to them who would know their precise likes and dislikes.

In many hospitals there are rules about 'protected mealtimes'. In some cases this is, wrongly interpreted as meaning there is no visiting during that time. In reality, a 'protected mealtime' is about avoiding medical procedures during mealtimes so that patients can enjoy their food in peace. If a friend or close relative is willing to help feed a disabled patient, this should be encouraged as long as the patient is happy about it. Being fed by a loved one is often extremely helpful as that person has a greater chance of knowing how the patient likes to be fed. As they are not as rushed as the nurses, the experience is often a far better one for the patient.

If you ask to help and are turned down, make sure you have checked with someone who is senior enough to make a sensible judgement about your situation.

A relative or friend who is willing to come in and help a patient can enable a nurse or health care assistant to give more time to someone else. Obviously, if a patient has a problem swallowing or some other disability, that would have to be taken into account.

If it is appropriate, it may be that you can bring in little extras at mealtimes which will help make the meal for that person even more appetising. A favourite drink is also a great way of encouraging someone to have more fluids. Again, it is vital to check with the nursing staff before you give any food or drink that is not on their menu, partly because the ingredients may not be appropriate for their diet but also because the staff may want to measure the amount they are drinking.


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