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‘It’s time to stop treating older people like toddlers’

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The group of nurses, therapists and care home managers who have been harnessing the power of social media to draw attention to the negative impact of plastic spouted beakers should be applauded. As those behind the #endplasticspoutedbeakers campaign point out, these often-unnecessary vessels “infantilise” older people.

The idea that older people in care homes, hospitals and other health and social care settings should have to endure the demeaning experience of being handed their drinks in a brightly coloured plastic cup with a lid – regardless of their needs and abilities – seems at odds with dignity and compassion, at the very least.

As our investigation this month reveals, there are also safety concerns associated with use of spouted beakers, as they increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia. Equally, they can be confusing for people, especially those with dementia, which is surely counter to the whole point of using them in the first place. 

One specialist nurse we interviewed described them as “awful”, and called for all student nurses to be asked to try to use one to empathise with patients – not a bad idea. While trying to imagine how my 84-year-old mother would feel about drinking from one, I remembered how keen my three-year-old daughter was to discard beakers and drink from proper cups. That really confirmed to me that it is time to #endplasticspoutedbeakers – as the Twitter campaign demands. 

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule and where an individual needs to use a beaker – for example due to Parkinson’s disease – then it is absolutely fine. But using them indiscriminately because they save time or reduce the chance of spillages is simply unacceptable. 

Our investigation also revealed a lack of evidence on how widespread their use still is and a lack of guidance on the issue – NHS England seems happy to leave it to trusts to set their own policies, and the Care Quality Commission apparently neither questions nor marks down providers for using them routinely.   

So, if your care home, hospital or other employer still routinely uses plastic spouted beakers for older people, I urge you to question the practice. Either that or let me know, so that Nursing Times can help. It is time to ban the beaker, unless it is part of an individual care plan or an individual’s choice. 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • HCSW

    Typical 20-bed rehab unit: patients are always given a choice whether to use the beaker or a cup. Majority always chooses beakers. I think the entire campaign is just a completely unnecessary issue - just take the bloody lid off and you will have a normal or a mandrel cup!

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  • I hope HCSW, that your comment is a minority view. For many elderly folk making a choice is beyond their capability and so people such as yourself will be relied upon to make that choice in their best interests and showing best practice with, a consideration of dignity perhaps ?

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