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Families report struggling with a range of challenges as they support older and disabled loved ones to eat and drink healthily

20 September 2018

New research finds that family and friends are grappling with a range of challenges as they help older and disabled loved ones to stay well-nourished and hydrated.

From choosing and buying food to the physical challenges of helping with eating and drinking; Carers UK have teamed up with Designability (who specialise in creating assistive technologies for people living with disabilities and age related conditions) to highlight the need for better information and new products to support carers with nutrition.

An online survey of 265 carers and in-depth focus groups found that unpaid carers are managing physical issues such as difficulty with swallowing, risks of choking and also monitoring whether someone is drinking enough. Carers also described the challenges of motivating the person they care for to eat and drink enough by providing appealing and appetising food.

The problem of finding out what help is available was a common complaint. Whether it was information about a healthy diet, specialist resources for different medical conditions or how to access different products; most carers highlighted the difficulty in finding what is out there.

Although some carers had used products that helped with the practical aspects of eating and drinking, others found products stigmatising, expensive or impractical. The research clearly showed an opportunity for innovative design to improve the lives of carers and those they support. From help with shopping, choosing the right food and preparing it to products that help with eating and drinking or help prompt and monitor.

Madeleine Starr MBE, Director of Innovation at Carers UK, said:

“The vast majority of those at risk of poor nutrition or hydration live in the community, in their own homes or with their family. For carers, ensuring their loved ones are eating and drinking well is a key concern and this research shows the many challenges they face.


As more of us provide support for relatives and friends, often juggling caring responsibilities with work or parenting younger children we need products that fit with the new realities of our busy lives. This research lays down a challenge to designers and technologists to explore practical solutions to help those with diverse care needs to enjoy a healthy diet.”

Jess Ridgers, Product Designer at Designability said:

“Supporting another person to eat and drink the right things is difficult and complex so it’s understandably a key worry for carers. This research shows that there are many opportunities for inclusive design to inform the development of more and better products to help carers support others to eat and drink well. We hope that our findings will be the start of a bigger conversation leading to innovative solutions.”

The research was supported by Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition who provided an unrestricted grant that enabled Carers UK and Designability to carry out primary research activities with carers and professionals.

Kate Hall, Head of External Affairs UK, Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition said: “Ensuring everyone obtains adequate nutrition and hydration is a fundamental right and integral to health and well-being, yet it is often assumed that such needs are being met. This research demonstrates the scale of the problem and provides essential insights into the key stumbling blocks faced by those caring for someone who needs help eating and drinking. We welcome this important research and support all progress aimed at improving both the design of, and access to a better nutritional solution for carers.” 


Media contact

Please contact the Carers UK press office on:

  • 020 7378 4942(9am-5pm, Monday-Friday)
  • 07534 487 027/ 07941 273 108 (out of hours)
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Notes to editors

About the research

Responses were given by 265 carers to an online survey on nutrition, providing detailed information on how they 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. Many people being cared for had multiple conditions and 20% had a diagnosis of dementia. Most care was provided in the same house or locally and was substantial (over 50 hours of care weekly) and long term (over 10 years). 40% of carers indicated they were the sole providers of care, where help was provided it was from a combination of close family members (spouse, parent or child) and formal carers.

Carers UK and Designability convened two focus groups at Carers UK involving 16 participants and 7 telephone interviews were conducted by Designability with professional volunteers. 5 were Enteral Nurse Specialists and 2 were dietitians.


The research was supported by Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition who provided an unrestricted grant that enabled Carers UK and Designability to carry out primary research activities with carers and professionals.

A copy of the report is available at:

About Carers UK

Carers UK is a charity led by carers, for carers – our mission is to make life better for carers.

  • We give expert advice, information and support
  • We connect carers so no-one has to care alone
  • We campaign together for lasting change
  • We innovate to find new ways to reach and support carers

For practical advice and information about caring, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Twitter:              @CarersUK

About Designability


Designability is a national charity that aims to transform the lives of disabled people and those living with a long term health condition. The team of engineers, designers and clinicians share a passion for creating life-changing assistive technologies and carry out original research and create products that help people who are facing challenges every day.



Twitter:  @designabilityUK

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