How smart cutlery can help the elderly manage disease

Even our dishware is not immune from the reaches of high-tech innovation. Now it is possible to manage some dietary aspects of diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and cancer with utensils and dishes that help stabilize food, send electric pulses to your taste buds to intensify flavor and prevent undereating, according to Stat.

High-end restaurants have long claimed plating changes the way we experience dining. Now hospitals and hospice providers are climbing onboard as researchers and entrepreneurs design dishes and utensils designed to manage medical conditions and improve health.

Smart plates and utensils provide at-home solutions for the following four eating issues, according to the report.

1. Restoring loss of taste. The sense of taste declines naturally as we age, but for those with Parkinson's disease or dementia, the loss of taste may occur more rapidly. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy may also lose taste due to damage to their taste buds or experience a persistent and unpleasant metallic taste.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore have designed a prototype that can serve as a potential taste-loss solution. They have developed Taste+, a spoon and cup that apply electric pulses to the tongue during eating a drinking to generate salty, sour or bitter taste sensations, according to the report. The researchers are currently working on manufacturing the spoon and plan to study it with people with dementia and on a low-sodium diet in Singaporean hospitals.

2. Avoiding undereating. Various types of patients may be at risk for undereating, including elderly patients with cognitive impairments as well as young children who are picky eaters.

The Salisbury District Hospital in the United Kingdom has deployed efforts to get their elderly patients to eat more using the psychology of color. According to the report, a 2013 study found patients who were served meals on blue plates ate nearly a third more than those served on white plates. The company Eatwell, which has raised more than $100,000 on its crowdfunding website, has designed a dining set that includes bright primary colors in an effort to enhance dementia patients' appetites.

A high-tech plate still in development called Yumit aims to make the activity of eating a fun game for children. Designed by the Argentinian firm Wunderman, the plate weighs how much food is left in real time and gives children positive feedback through LED lights that change color. Parents can receive detailed analytics reports on a corresponding app to see how fast the plate was cleared and by how much, according to the report.

3. Preventing spills. Patients who experience hand tremors from Parkinson's disease, reduced spatial reasoning from dementia or diminished ability to grip silverware from arthritis may have trouble holding on to utensils and cups while eating, causing a loss of independence.

Now, a high-tech spoon called Liftware uses sensors and a motor to counteract hand tremors to stabilize the utensil and prevent spills. Liftware has been on the market for about two years. It was first developed by startup company Lift Labs and is now owned by Verily, the life sciences unit of Google's parent company, according to the report.

4. Reducing overeating. Overeating is one of the greatest contributors to America's obesity epidemic. To combat this problem, the Philadelphia-based startup Fitly has created the high-tech SmartPlate, which will start being shipped to customers next summer. SmartPlate is outfitted with cameras and sensors that weigh and assess one's food to calculate how many calories are in a user's meal. If the meal contains too many calories, a warning message can be sent to the user's wearable device or smartphone. If the scale detects the user is eating too quickly, a similar warning can be issued. 

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