How To Feed A Person

Why does a person need help being fed?

Some people are unable to feed themselves. A person may need to be fed or have help during mealtimes for many reasons. This may include confusion, injury to an arm or hand, blindness, a stroke or other health problems. Others may be able feed themselves with help or special utensils and devices. Ask your caregiver for more information about any special devices you will be using.

When and how much should the person be fed?

  • Eating healthy balanced meals is especially important to a person who is recovering from an illness. It is also important for someone who must be in bed or in a wheelchair for long periods of time.

  • Normal mealtimes and the amount of food a person eats may change when they are fed in bed. The person may have to eat smaller meals, and eat more often. He may have to eat his meals when he takes certain medicines. He may also need to eat his last meal early in the evening so that he can sleep well. A person may need to follow a special diet because of a medical condition. If the person you are feeding needs a special diet, ask caregivers for information about the diet. Learn what the person should and should not be eating. A caregiver called a dietitian (di-e-TISH-an) may help you plan a healthy diet.

Feeding advice:

  • Getting ready for mealtimes:

    • Ask the person if he needs to use the bathroom, a bedpan, or urinal.

    • Wash or help him wash his hands.

    • Help him sit as upright as possible, in a comfortable position. If allowed, help him into a chair or raise the head of the bed. Put pillows behind his back for comfort and support.

  • Place the following items within easy reach:

    • Meal tray.

    • Over-bed table.

    • Towels.

    • Straws.

    • Basin with water.

    • Feeding devices, such as special spoons or a syringe.

  • Feeding someone who cannot feed himself:

    • Sit in a chair close to the person so he can see or hear you. Talk to him about the food you are feeding him.

    • A person who has had a stroke may have weakness and numbness on one side of their body. If the person you are feeding has had a stroke, sit to the side that is not numb or weak. Put the spoon on the side of his mouth where there is feeling. Be sure food is being swallowed and not collecting on the numb side of his mouth.

    • Put solid food on the tip of the spoon.

    • Give him small bites. If he tends to choke, give him water or other liquids with a spoon. This will help him swallow the food.

    • Do not rush while feeding a person. Always wait between bites and watch his throat to make sure he has swallowed.

    • Ask if he is ready for more food before you feed it to him.

    • Wipe his mouth as often as needed.

    • Stop feeding a person if they tell or show you that they have had enough. Stop feeding a person if they fall asleep during the meal.

  • Feeding someone with a poor appetite:

    • Make the mealtime enjoyable. Ask him if he would like to listen to his favorite music. If allowed, give him a glass of wine or beer with his meal.

    • Arrange for a family member or friend to be with him during his mealtime.

    • Give him five to six small meals during the day, instead of three big meals.

    • Offer healthy snacks, such as fruit or cheese when he is hungry, even if it is not time for a meal.

    • If he can walk, encourage him to walk before a meal. Walking may help him feel hungry, and also helps the body digest (use) the food we eat.

  • Feeding someone who has vision problems:

    • Tell the person what food is on the plate and how it looks or is prepared.

    • Follow the steps listed above.

Other tips when feeding a person:

  • You may want to test how much the person can swallow by first giving him a little water with a spoon.

  • Ask the person which food he wants to eat first. This helps him feel in control of his meal.

  • Always allow the person to eat at his own pace.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.