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Cake is Complicated

By Breeda Miller, Caregiver Champion

It seemed like such a reasonable idea.  It was Dad’s 87th birthday and he participated in a day program for seniors.  His daughter wanted to bring a cake to the center so that everyone could have a slice and celebrate.  The bus driver and an aide thought it was a great idea – who doesn’t like cake?

Special Diets Anyone?

Well, like many ideas involving senior care, it’s a bit more complicated.  Many of the participants in the program are on special diets – no sugar, gluten free, no dairy, the list goes on.  Then there is the issue of timing.  Because transportation is an essential service for this program, timing to get folks ready and on to their correct bus at the right time impacts everything.  There are also several different meal times so that everyone can be seated in the common room – so when exactly is the cake served?  By whom, for whom?  What are the alternate plans for those who can’t have cake?  With nearly 100 participants, all of whom have a birthday each year the logistics of outside food being brought in to the center is a nightmare for the dietary staff.

But it’s Just a Cake!

But to the loving family member, it seems like the center is just being difficult.  They just want to celebrate with a cake, how hard can that be?  Often the rules of supporting large groups of people with a variety of physical needs means that really, nothing is simple.  When a family member wants to provide a special treat to honor their loved one, it can take considerable diplomacy to ensure that feelings are not hurt and that the situation is explained in a kind and thoughtful manner.

Nip it in the Bud

I spoke at the annual staff education day for one such center and I was so impressed at how the director of food service was able to explain to the entire staff why families bringing in food treats can cause significant problems.  By educating the entire staff about the ramifications of such an activity, all staff are able to share this with families before they walk in the door with an enormous cake and learn that it can’t be served.  Sharing the perspective of one department with everyone is a terrific way to create  a true sense of team – and when a family member mentions the idea to the bus driver or asks the front desk if it’s ok to bring in a cake or other edible treats, the staff can respond in a positive and knowledgeable manner, with a non-food celebratory idea or redirect to the monthly celebration of birthdays.

Cake IS complicated.  Who knew?

2 thoughts on “Cake is Complicated”

  1. Cake can be complicated, indeed. My Dad had Parkinson’s Disease for many years before he passed in 05. Being a lover of all things sweet (with an ideal metabolism for having a sweet tooth), Dad was disappointed that he was denied cake for his August birthday a month before he passed away. We decided not to have cake because he was being tube fed at the time. Though he no longer could speak, the disappointment on his face spoke volumes. We won’t ever forget that.

    Forward eight years, my Mom had suffered several small strokes and was unable to swallow most foods. Her birthday arrived in April, just two months before she passed. Once again, faced with a dilemma, we opted to celebrate without cake so as not to tempt Mom. She, too, was disappointed and once again we were filled with guilt and remorse. Cake can be a very complicated thing.

    1. I had no idea. Not only can it be complicated it is laden with meaning and symbolism. We learn new things everyday. Thank you Lori.

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