Tag Archives: drinking aids

What are the alternatives to plastic straws?

plastic waste including plastic straws and plastic bottles on a beach

What are the alternatives to plastic straws for disabled people and should you make a switch?

It won’t have escaped your attention that plastic straws have been in the headlines throughout 2018. With the seas full of plastic particles, and sea life choking to death around the world on the discarded remains of our consumer culture, attention has moved on from plastic carrier bags and onto the humble drinking straw. In England alone it is estimated that some 4.6 billion of them are disposed of each year. Ahead of EU legislation coming into effect, they are likely to be banned – and some major food retailers, including the likes of McDonald’s and Starbucks, have already announced their intention to stop using single use plastic straws in favour of biodegradable cardboard.

This is great news for sea life, but potentially much worse news for many disabled people, for whom the alternatives are not always practical – and in some cases actively dangerous.

For example, metal straws are often touted as an environmentally friendly alternative to single use plastic straws, as they can be cleaned for re-use over and over. However, many people live with conditions that render them impractical. Anyone suffering from a condition where seizures are a potential problem – such as epilepsy – are at risk of damage to their mouths from stainless steel metal straws, for example.  Glass straws are also available and whilst they may be better for ensuring that they are clean on reuse, they may break and cause injury and are not recommended. Moreover, metal and paper straws alike are not flexible, which is a major problem for people with mobility or posture issues.

Then there are the basic issues of hygiene. It is very well to say that straws are ‘reusable’ but that reuse must follow washing. For people caring for someone reliant on semi-solid foods, washing something as fiddly as a straw is not necessarily an easy job.

plastic straws

The biodegradable alternatives such as paper straws also pose a set of problems: even for non-disabled users, it is easy for the straw to turn to mush if a drink isn’t drunk quickly enough, or if chewed a little too much. For disabled users who may take a little longer to drink or who may have dexterity problems, this issue is magnified. The side effects might not be severe in themselves, but there is trouble enough eating through a straw as it is, without the added problem of finding it blocked or turning to pulp in your mouth.

It is true that alternatives are available – such as these silicon straws, which offer flexibility and safety – but they also cost a relatively large sum, and while on paper they are infinitely rewashable, we all know that in real life keeping specialist equipment clean isn’t easy and real world lifespans are not often as advertised.

Other specialist straws

There are other specialist products for other conditions – such as straws with one-way valves . One way valve straws allow you to suck and stop without losing the air pressure that keeps the liquid in the straw and are therefore useful for people who cannot suck very strongly or consistently. (We have discussed these before on a previous post). These are often plastic anyway and whether they will be exempt from a future ban is yet to be known. They carry an even greater price overhead, and come with the same issues around hygiene as the alternatives.

The argument for disabled people continuing to use plastic straws

To put things in perspective, the price of a single pack of silicon straws would be enough to buy almost two thousand single use plastic straws. Would those same pack of silicon straws last for 2000 meals and drinks? Maybe, but perhaps not…..

Perhaps the best way to consider this analogy would be rubber gloves. While it is possible to buy well-made, washable and reusable gloves, almost all healthcare now involved single use rubber or plastic gloves, for all the same reasons: they offer the best balance of hygiene and convenience. Yet in the current climate of panic, nobody seems to be suggesting that healthcare professionals stop using them.

We are all on the same side in wanting a solution to end plastic pollution in the oceans, but that cannot come at any cost. The dignity and safety of disabled people must still be considered, and in the rush towards a blanket ban it is important not to lose sight of these basic human needs and the large, often unheard, minority of disabled people for whom they are small part of living with dignity and independence.

screen shot of BBC website with Tanni in front of the Houses of Parliament and a headline "Plastic Straw ban disadvantages disabled people, says paralympian"

Baroness Thompson on the BBC news when a ban was proposed.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thomson spoke out when a ban was discussed in the UK :

“Disabled people will be seriously disadvantaged if we can’t find a proper alternative”.

Should you stock up?

A ban on plastic straws of some sorts looks increasingly likely. It’s unlikely that you will never be able to get them from anywhere, but if a ban does come into force you might struggle to get hold of them for a while. We’d certainly recommend considering stocking up if that would impact your life  – especially when you can bulk hundreds (or even thousands) for relatively little money.

Other Alternatives

Our friends at http://sturdystraw.co.uk/ sell a fantastic range of hygienic, bendable rubber straws – along with other accessories.

A man in a wheelchair showing a bottle with a plastic straw attached and the straw in a place he can reach it easily.

Mark developed sturdy straw and sells it from his website. It is position-able with a bendable rod and has accessories to make it work for you.

Another great thing to check out is the Hydrant drinking system – which comes with hanging clips and a bite valve to make drinking that bit easier.

 

On a final note, one thing you should not feel is guilty if your situation requires you to use plastic straws. While the issue is a big deal in the media, there has to be recognition of the role that plastic straws play in the lives of many disabled people, and that other problems – such as disposable water bottles, non-recyclable packaging are far bigger in scale without attracting anything like the attention.

Many of us use disposable medical equipment in our daily lives because there isn’t a practical reusable alternative in that situation, I would argue that disabled people using plastic straws should be considered in the same way.

This video explains the whole issue (and is awesome!)

Liverpool Mi Smarthouse

Liverpool Mi Smarthouse

Mi Smarthouse Kitchen Area

Mi Smarthouse Kitchen Area

At the Museum of Liverpool there’s a small, unassuming exhibition which looks like the recreation of a normal house. When you get inside you realise it has been setup with every possible gadget and gizmo to support independence. The Mi Smarthouse is a project put together by More Independent (Mi).

More Independent is a Government-funded initiative that is being piloted across four UK regions. As there website says the scheme exists to:

  • enable you to take charge of your health, wellbeing and lifestyle
  • use technology to allow you to feel safer and live more independently in your own home
  • give peace of mind to yourself and your family
  • reduce the amount of time you have to spend on appointments, by supporting you to manage better at home

The Mi Smarthouse at the museum is kitted out with a wide range of equipment covering all the key areas of the home. Here we’re taking a look at some of the gadgets they’ve highlighted and used in their perfect, accessible home.

General

These gadgets could be useful at any place in your home and can make it feel more safe and secure.

Fall Detector

Fall Detector

Fall Detector

A fall detector can be worn around your neck and it connected to a system which will alert your carer if you do fall even if they’re not on the premises.

Large Buttons Picture Telephone

Phone keypads can be hard to use and it can also be difficult to remember phone numbers. This phone has spaces for photographs of those people you call regularly as well as large, clear numbers for when you need to dial out.

Home Safety Alert

The Mi Smarthouse has a bonus caller panic button installed by the front door, giving the residents the chance to press the button if anyone arrives at the door who they’re not comfortable with. Similar home safety alarm system can be found elsewhere too.

Supra KeySafe

Supra KeySafe

Supra KeySafe

The Supra KeySafe is the UK’s first police approved key safe and is the perfect place to store your emergency keys. You choose a combination number and you can share this number only with somebody you trust implicitly.

Carbon Monoxide Sensor

Carbon monoxide can kill. It’s odourless and can’t be seen so the only way to sense it before it is too late is with a dedicated carbon monoxide sensor. Sensors can be easily installed and can save your life.

Fingerprint Lock

A fingerprint lock is a great option if you struggle with keys. You can add the details of your carer and friends as authorised ‘pad-pressers’ so they can get in and out with ease when necessary too.

Kitchen

We’ve talked regularly about the importance of gadgets to make access to the kitchen easier. It’s potentially a dangerous environment so anything to make it less so is a good invention in our book. In the Mi Smarthouse they demonstrated a range of kitchen-specific gadgets.

Talking Microwave

The controls on a microwave oven can be difficult if you have difficulties with your vision or dexterity. A Talking Microwave Oven can help guide you to the buttons you need and it will also tell you when the door is open or closed and let you know whether the food needs stirring or left to stand.

Induction Hob

An induction hob only cooks the pot upon it. There is next to no danger of being burned by it and they’re becoming a common installation in supported living environments to aid independence. This type of hob is also energy efficient and reaches top temperatures in record time. In the Mi House the hob was fitted but they can also be bought as separate electric units .

One cup Kettle

one-cup_kettleWe’ve talked before about how useful the one cup kettle can be. Never worry about spilling boiling water as the kettle will dispense the exact amount you need with the simple pressing of a button.

Entertainment and Living Area

Many of these items listed below could be used all around the house but are most useful when you’re relaxing in front of the TV or lounging on the sofa.

Big Switch and Remote

Big Switch Remote

Big Switch Remote

A Remote Control Big Switch can be positioned wherever you need it to avoid bending to switch off items which have plug sockets uncomfortably out of reach. The big switch can be used with any electrical appliance in the home.

Voice Recorder Switches

If speech has always been or is becoming difficult then these small voice recorder switches can be used to record key phrases. They can have messages such as ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘I want to go home’ ready recorded for when you’re home or out and about when speech has become difficult.

Chair Occupancy Alert

This item is extremely useful if you have an outside care team supporting you as it allows them to monitor the time spent out of your chair. If it seems exceptionally long they may phone you or come around the check everything is OK.

Big Jack Controller

Big Jack Multi-Controller

Big Jack Multi-Controller

The Big Jack can replace all your smaller, fiddly remotes and switches. It can be programmes for a whole range of jobs and can be used to change channels on the TV, switch off lights and even use the telephone.

Personal Care

The personal care element of the home is the most private. Both the bedroom and bathroom are places where you want to maintain as much independence as possible and some of these gadgets are designed to guarantee this as well as ensure you can get the help you need, when you need it.

Epilepsy Sensor

Epilepsy Sensor

Epilepsy Sensor

Living with any form of epilepsy or convulsions can be extremely frightening – especially if you’re alone when one occurs. This epilepsy sensor will alert an outdoor care team if a seizure is taking place, allowing them to provide the right support ASAP.

Enuresis Sensor

Enuresis Sensor

Enuresis Sensor

Designed to fit comfortable under the top sheet, an enuresis sensor will alert your carer to the fight signs of dampness whilst in bed – ensuring you’re not left uncomfortable for a long period of time. We have looked at these aids previously for helping children but they can be equally useful later in life.

Flood Detector

A flood detector will guarantee you never forget about another bath. It’s very easy to forget the bath is running but with the installation of a simple detector, it will be safe and you can avoid the risks of damage to your home and the even higher risk of slipping.

The Mi Smarthouse in Liverpool is one of the first examples of how all this technology can come together and successfully be used to help people remain in their own homes independently. You can take a virtual tour of the Smarthouse here. We recently visited the £D printing exhibition at the London Science Museum and will cover the potential benefits in a future post.

Drinking Aids Review Including New handSteady

Drinking aids for Disabled People Reviewed

Drinking aids offer important, everyday assistance to those with health conditions such as tremors, Parkinsons and Cerebral Palsy. There are many innovative yet simple drinking aids available, and the newest one on the market is “handSteady”.

The handSteady drinking aid is a drinks cup with a rotatable handle. Even though many everyday items have evolved in terms of design, it would seem that the humble cup has remained the same for centuries. Although many people find drinking from a normal cup easy, if you suffer from dexterity issues, tremors, weakness or muscle pain you will find that fixed-handled cups can cause pain and other difficulties.

Creating the handSteady Drinking Aid

drinking aids for the elderly, Chris Peacock stood infront of a brick wall, holding his handSteady cup and its box.

The handSteady drinking aid was created by Chris Peacock

The handSteady drinking aid was created by Chris Peacock, an inventor and Physics graduate from Southampton. After one of his closest family members had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, they found that it affected their ability to drink. It was at this point that Chris looked around for options for Parkinson’s drinking aids to no avail, and he knew he should use his creative talents to fill this much neglected gap in the market.

Designing a new adaptive drinking aid

Chris started upon a post-graduate Masters in Industrial Design Engineering, and decided to base his studies on creating a new drinking aid for not only his relative, but millions of others in need of extra help with drinking.

Chris’ project garnered support from a number of influential and acclaimed innovations institutions, including a Dyson Scholarship, a Kenny Yip Award and an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Scholarship.

The result of Chris’ hard work, innovative thinking and scholarly support was the new handSteady drinking aid.

How Does the handSteady Work?

Often the most simple of ideas can revolutionise the world, and the handSteady is set to do just that. The handle of the handSteady cup is rotatable. This means that instead of having to hold a cup at an uncomfortable angle, the handle can be tilted to suit your specific needs.

The handSteady cup self-levels and will stay upright until you’re ready to drink, no matter what angle you hold it at. You do not have to twist your wrist to bring the cup to your mouth helping to

geriatric drinking aids infographic showing a hand holding the handSteady cup with information about how it works.

The handSteady drinking aid stays upright, is easy to tilt and always keeps steady.

reduce pain. Other everyday cups force the user to keep the cup in an upright position, and if you suffer from tremors or muscle weakness or rigidity, this can often mean that spillage can occur very easily.

With the handSteady drinking aid cup, you no longer need to twist and bend your wrist to take a drink. The rotating motion of the handSteady handle means that you do not have to tilt your head backwards, or rely on elbow or wrist action to take a sip of liquid. The cup can be tilted using your other hand, your thumb or simply by using your lips.

The handSteady cup is ideal for those with tremors or hand coordination problems. By rotating the handle 90 degrees, it can be carried whilst walking with a reduced chance of spillage. It also allows for limited elbow movement when moving the cup towards your mouth for a drink. Providing users with the ability to keep their elbows close to their sides whilst drinking can help to eliminate tremors that would otherwise cause drink to spill.

The Benefits of Using a handSteady Cup

Having problems with the simple act of drinking can cause many people to feel embarrassed and self-conscious. Having little control over your movements can cause drink to spill easily, staining clothes and furniture. It is for this reason those with certain health conditions feel anxious about going out with friends and family to drink in public. However, the design of the handSteady provides not only a practical and effective drinking aid, but also a piece of mind for those that use it. The assurance that drinks will no longer spill due to tremors or muscle weakness can provide independence and dignity, whilst providing an easy and comfortable drinking experience.

The handSteady drinking aid is an ideal alternative cup for those with:

  • Tremors
  • Limited Dexterity or Slowness of Movement
  • Swallowing Difficulties
  • Joint or Muscle Pain, Stiffness or Weakness such as Arthritis

 

handSteady’s Innovative and Inclusive Design

medical drinking aids. Image of the handSteady cup with a list of features including 1. Curved Rim, 2. State of the art materials, 3. Rotatable handle, 4. Ergonomic geometry, 5. Double Arc handle

The handSteady uses state of the art materials and design to ensure spillage is at a minimum.

When Chris Peacock designed the handSteady it was to first and foremost serve a purpose and help people to drink easily. However, he was also passionate about creating a product that looked as good as it functioned. The elegant design of the handSteady is based upon the traditional bone china cup many of us use on a daily basis. The innovative materials used to create the handSteady reflect the delicate colouring of bone china and also make it 31% lighter than normal cups. This provides even more ease of use and comfort, especially for those that suffer from muscle weakness or stiffness. The handSteady also boasts a number of other benefits, including a large handle with a guard to prevent hot drinks burning your hands, that is big enough to be held in the “power grip” hold.

The cup also features an ingenious curved rim, that guides liquids to the centre of the mouth when drinking, and ensures liquid returns to the cup to avoid dripping. Each of the handSteady drinking aid cups can hold 250ml of liquid, is insulated to keep drink cooler/warmer for longer, is stain resistant and can be conveniently cleaned in a dish washer.

The new handSteady drinking aid is truly a revolution in everyday design, and solves a number of drinking problems that had yet to be tackled without the use of tubes or straws.

To purchase the fantastic handSteady drinking aid or for more information, visit Chris’ site handsteady.com.

 

Other Drinking Aids Currently Available

Now we’ve covered the new handSteady, let’s take a look at some of the other innovative and practical drinking aids available on the market.

The Hydrant 1 litre with Straw

Image is a photograph of the Hydrant drinks bottle with drinking tube and clip

Created and developed by Mark Moran, the Hydrant is a water / drinks bottle with a twist. This drinking aid is a bottle with a unique one-piece cap/clip/handle that can be secured on to almost any equipment including beds, wheelchairs, bikes and more. The user can drink from the bottle with ease using the drinking tube that fits securely to the Hydrant bottle. Having this ability to drink through a tube means those that are weak or struggle to hold a cup or bottle can simply sip through the straw with ease. Not having to reach for a drink and having the Hydrant by your side helps to keep patients hydrated and comfortable.
Much like the handSteady, the Hydrant provides independence so that the user doesn’t have to rely on asking for help when they need a drink. The Hydrant holds 1 litre of liquid and the drinking tube includes a special bite valve that opens under pressure, allowing the user to drink at a comfortable pace. Once the bite valve is released, the tube closes to avoid leaking and spillage of liquids.
Click here to purchase the Hydrant 1 litre drinks bottle with bite-valve tube.

The DUO Cup Holder

Image of a white mug with the DUO providing a second handle.

Ergonomic DUO can be easily attached to a regular mug or cup.

The basis of the DUO cup holder is that it adds an extra handle to your favourite cup. Making your cup or mug two-handed is ideal for those that struggle to grip and hold a cup using only one handle. Rather than having to purchase new two-handled mugs or cups, you can now transform your favourite everyday cup with the DUO.
The DUO will safely and securely fit around your mug of choice, and the ergonomically shaped handle provides a steady and study grip whilst also protecting your hands from hot drinks. The DUO can also be attached to glasses as well as ceramics, and this ability to adapt drink ware you already own is not only easy to do, but also cost effective in the long term. Click here to purchase the Duo cup holder.

Easi 2 Drink Anti-spillage Drinking Aid Insert

wheelchair drinking aid with ladies hand holding a yellow mug with tea and a Easi 2 Drink aid inside.

The Easi 2 Drink insert restricts wave motion and the tendency for liquid to spill.

The Easi 2 Drink is a white plastic device which can be inserted inside of mugs and glasses to help reduce spillage. It was specifically designed to help those with tremors or coordination problems drink without spilling liquids. The Easi 2 Drink anti-spillage aid can be placed inside any standard sized mug or tumbler, and the unique shape of the device helps to restrict the swaying motion of liquids. This in turn helps to avoid spillage for those who struggle to hold a cup steady.
The Easi 2 Drink Anti-Spillage aid can be easily inserted in to any cup, mug or glass and can be removed for cleaning. The handy pocket-size design means you can carry it with you anywhere and easily adapt any drinking vessel without needing to carry a special cup or bottle. The Easi 2 Drink can withstand liquids from 0-100 degrees Celsius and is available to purchase here.

Ornamin Thermo Safe Mug

Image of the blue version of the Ornamin Thermo Safe MugThe Ornamin Thermo Safe Mug is a stylish and modern looking drinking aid that keeps drinks hot or cold for longer. The large, easy to hold handle provides enough room to be held via the “power grip” hand position and is ideal for those with arthritis. The Ornamin Thermo Safe Mug is insulated yet lightweight, and has been designed in a special cone shape which makes drinking easier for those with limited movement of the neck.
The bold, bright body of the mug contrasts with the white rim, which makes it easier for the user to see the top of the mug.
Ornamin Thermo Safe Mugs come in a whole plethora of colours (including yellow, blackberry, petrol and green), and comes equipped with a removable, spouted lid. Each mug can hold up to 140ml of liquid and is microwave safe.

If your drink of choice is usually tea or coffee, check out our previous post about safer alternatives to disposable hot drinks cups.

Strawberi Straw Holder

Image of a red Strawberi straw holder holding a green straw in a glass.

Strawberi is an award winning straw holder that grasps a straw securely against the side of a glass or cup.


Strawberi straw holders are a simple yet ingenious little device that attaches to the side of your glass to keep your straw in place. The Strawberi keeps your straw steady and upright, which means you can drink hands free and not have to worry about the straw moving about. This is ideal for those with tremors or muscle weakness. The Strawberi drinking straw holder can be attached to any type of drinking cup or glass and helps to eliminate any stress or mess that can be caused by trying to keep the straw in the right position.
The Strawberi is also perfect for young children who are learning to suck via a straw and the added bonus is that they are dishwasher safe for extra cleanliness and time-saving.

And finally…Thirst Aid Helmet Drinking Hat!

Image of plastic helmet hats with holsters on the sides for holding cans of drink.

Contemporary style, ultimate functionality – hands-free drinking aid the Thirst Aid Helmet

Or, if none of the innovative and practical drinking aids we’ve mentioned so far take your fancy, why not opt for the classic Thirst Aid Helmet?! Hat AND drinking aid in one, the Thirst Aid Helmet offers multifunctional practicality unrivalled by any other drinks-hat on the market. Hands-free hydration has never been so simple – avoid spillages and unnecessary fumbling for the nearest beverage with your choice of bottle or can firmly attached to your head. The Thirst Aid Helmet allows you to holster either a bottle or can firmly to either side of your head, and once the drinking tubes have been inserted, you are left entirely hands-free for anything you desire. Ideal for sports events, drinking on the go or even relaxing at home, the Thirst Aid Helmet is the ultimate in style and functionality. This may seem like a bit of fun, but hey, if  it works for you then why not?

😉

Please tell us what is your favourite drinking aid in the comments below: