AUTHOR: SUSAN DIAB

Parkinson’s Disease affects motor control and mobility amongst its symptoms. This can cause difficulties for people with Parkinson’s when it comes to eating out. One common symptom is a tremor in one or both hands and so, depending on the severity of the tremor, getting food successfully into one’s mouth can be awkward. Stress and anxiety brought about by standing out in public situations because of the tremor only increases its intensity. Whilst devices such as adapted and stabilising cutlery are commercially available they tend to be expensive, rather ungainly, designed without much attention to aesthetic appeal and can also draw attention to the problem rather than helping to ease the difficulty.

A ground-breaking and visionary project is currently underway in Oxford to work towards improving adapted devices and wearable tech for people with Parkinson’s. The Pitt Rivers collection of artifacts is a ‘museum of comparative technologies’ offering clues for understanding how people in different times and parts of the world have solved solutions to the variety of demands that daily living presents. A participant group of people from the Oxford branch of Parkinson’s UK, neurologists from Oxford University’s Brain Networks Dynamics Unit and a project artist are collaborating to address some of the main difficulties people with Parkinson’s face in negotiating daily life.

At lively discussion-based workshops participants outline how the assistive aids they already use might be improved and which of their symptoms they would like help with. It is then up to the scientists and project artist together to visualise and create prototypes which can then be tested to see if life can be made easier for the participants. At one workshop eating out in a restaurant with cutlery was raised as a particular difficulty.

The use of cutlery is a culturally determined practice and other paradigms can be imagined such as menus devised of dishes where no cutlery is necessary or restaurants who provide a choice of kinds of cutlery and dishes for eating from, just as one might provide vegetarian and vegan options.

The project would be interested to hear experiences and thoughts from foodservice professionals about any aspect of eating out and use of cutlery:

  • Do you know of environments where diners with Parkinson’s and/or other illnesses which affect motor control are made to feel as welcome and as at ease about eating out as other guests?
  • Have you catered for particular eating needs where a physical difficulty had to be negotiated?
  • Have you made diners feel particularly welcome by providing cutlery, utensils or tableware that facilitated a good experience?
  • Has a situation occurred that was problematic for some reason but it was a useful, instructive experience for you and you would like to share the insights it gave rise to?
  • Are you excited by the prospect of devising a delicious and varied menu that gets rid of the need for cutlery altogether?

Your stories or experiences could add valuable information into the project so please get in touch directly with project artist-in-residence Susan Diab: [email protected]