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The Meal Lifter Story

In a curious turn of events, my wife and I unintentionally became entrepreneurs at the age of 70. I am a semi-retired real estate developer, and my wife is a painter.

Our late-in-life journey began several years ago when we invited our family to a 90th birthday celebration for my mother. We had prepared her favorite meal and were puzzled when she sat quietly and didn’t eat. When my wife asked if she was alright, my mother whispered that because of her Parkinson’s and the associated tremors and weakness, she was no longer able to raise her arm without food falling off the utensil and on to her clothing; causing her great embarrassment.

To temporarily remedy the situation, my wife stacked several books below the dinner plate, which allowed my mother to pivot on her elbow without lifting her arm. It worked extremely well, and subsequently we created a prototype that my mother carried with her to meals at her senior living facility. Ultimately, the prototype allowed her to remain in independent living longer than her condition would have otherwise permitted.

Over the course of using the prototype several other residents and nursing staff inquired if the device was commercially available. With that encouragement and the express desire of helping seniors eat independently, we experimented with various sizes and configurations, and eventually created a device that we trademarked and patented as the “Meal Lifter”.

The device is a very simple platform that raises the dinner plate several inches, secures the plate and reduces the distance from plate to mouth. Pivoting on the elbow rather than lifting the arm makes it demonstrably easier to feed oneself, minimizing the amount of food that may otherwise fall off of the utensil, and making eating more enjoyable while providing greater nutrition, ease and dignity. We’ve subsequently learned that nursing aids often use books or magazines to raise the dinner plate; however, all have agreed that the Meal Lifter provides a much more sanitary, secure and dignified method of assisting the individual. One home health care provider correlated the Meal Lifter with the creation of “wheels on luggage”.

In visiting with the Alzheimer’s Foundation, we also learned that dementia patients often experience a reduced field of vision and are not able to comfortably see their dinner plate. By raising the plate (preferably red) with the Meal Lifter, they are able to more easily see their food and feed themselves unassisted. Also, by wrapping one arm around the device, they have greater control, comfort and confidence while eating.

In 2018 we presented the device to Direct Supply, which is the largest national distributor of equipment and supplies to the senior housing market. They enthusiastically agreed to market the Meal Lifter, and it is now being sold to senior living and nursing facilities through their catalog. It is also available to individuals though our website, www.meallifter.com.

Upon launching the Meal Lifter, we quickly realized that the business required resources and skills that we did not possess. The IT, marketing and social media requirements were – and continue to be overwhelming. However, we have been fortunate that our children (and grandchildren) have the skillsets we’re missing, and have been very helpful (and patient) in assisting and guiding us through the technical and marketing challenges.

Starting this business enterprise has been challenging and disappointing at times, but assisting so many seniors has been extremely rewarding. Our advice to anyone considering a late-in-life entreprenieul endeavor is to have the technical and marketing assistance readily available – and recognize early-on that knowledge and experience gained from previous businesses do not necessarily translate to today’s e-commerce approach to business.

Sunday, July 19, 2020