I consult at an adult program where many individuals have difficulty grasping or using their hands in other functional ways. Most of them have developmental disabilities but a few have had brain injuries or strokes. I am frequently explaining why whenever possible, it is better to provide Hand-Over Hand assistance to grasp a spoon rather than staff feed the person.
The exception would be if providing HOH causes agitation or any other emotional/physical response that impedes safe eating. Consuming nutrition is of course the most important concern but many staff wonder why even bother using the HOH technique in
Adult Day programs requires that we work on developing skills, goals and strategies that support learning and independence. If the client's physical/and or cognitive status is at a level where they don't yet grasp a spoon, then this seems like a good functional skill to work on. Most people are motivated to eat!
A 50ish year-old woman I will call Michelle had a brain injury decades ago and she wants to feed HERSELF. Great, the staff assumed that they would feed her because she has such limited hand use. But instead they provide a pre-loaded spoon or fork with built up handle. Staff place their hand on top of hers in order to bring the spoon toward and enter her mouth. Michelle is very happy to be feeding herself even though she is fed at her residence. but that is not within my control.
Michelle has much spasticity so I showed the staff how to gently move and relax her first before placing the spoon inside her tightly flexed hand. The spoon functions as a splint since it is opening up her hand and the movement from bowl to mouth provide range-of-motion. Another benefit is that the HOH process takes longer than if staff feed her. That is a good thing since many of the clients need extra time to manipulate and swallow food.
The young man, Jose shown in the photo above has Down Syndrome. He throws objects and prefers to eat by grabbing fistfuls of food with his hand. His mom feeds him at home. I extended the spoon handle with tubing rather than placing my hand on top of his because he does not want to be touched. after he grasps the spoon handle, I place my left hand on Jose's shoulder and push it backward and at the same time I push his elbow inward toward his body. This prevents him from bringing his head into the plate to eat. Its challenging, but he has gotten used to this technique and knows what to expect. Staff need to quickly catch the spoon after Jose fills his mouth so that he does not throw it. Staff feeding him is surely easier. But this is a young man who has almost no other hand skills and he LOVES to eat. His food smells of fantastic home made foods from Central America.
An individual, named Barry has an objective to increase the amount of time grasping an object. Its obviously a pretty early developmental skill and babies are typically good at this at around 6 months of age. It is unlikely that an older man will learn to grasp if he hasn't by now.
However, providing HOH to grasp and move this object ( a green groan stick attached to a vibrating toothbrush) provides sensory and social stimulation. Barry enjoys the touch, smells, vibration and attention. Perhaps he will learn to grasp with less assistance as we explore other objects he might enjoy.
Eric in the photo below is also working on grasping objects. I place the groan stick inside his palms and he maintains his grasp as I lift it upward. I also gently push the stick toward Eric's body so that he is less likely to release. Eric appears to enjoy the social aspect and deep pressure sensory stimulation from the pushing.
The last photo is of an extremely social and smiley woman I will call Jill. She is very spastic and has minimal motor control. I placed a tube of hand lotion inside a rolled up cushion so that when her hands are pushed downward, lotion squirts out. Staff place her arms on the cushion and provide HOH assistance to push. Different individuals enjoy coming over to her wheelchair to receive lotion. Everybody enjoys this and benefits from the social and sensory aspects of receiving lotion from their friend.
Naturally, parents and teachers may use the HOH training technique to initially teach very simple skills such as brushing hair to complex skills such as closing a zipper. As they learn, most children require less and less physical assistance, point and/or verbal cues until they are independent. Then practice makes perfect and on to learning a new skill!.
Adults with disabilities often continue to benefit from Hand-Over-Hand support even though they likely will not be independent. However, as you can see there are many other benefits to HOH supports.
The video below demonstrates the different levels of assistance provided to perform tasks...ranging from independent to HOH and/or dependent. As an occupational therapist my goal is to help people not only be as independent as possible, but enjoy their quality of life. This often involves adapting meaningful activities and incorporating sensory stimulation when possible. This is what makes occupational therapy so rewarding and fun.
Source: Types of Cues/Prompts to Support Learning by RecyclingOT