Specific Concerns in Care Facilities or as Home Care Assistants in Private Homes

As a caregiver you are in a position of responsibility to make decisions for individuals under your care. Unlike a retail or a food service establishment there is a level of knowledge concerning the individuals that you care for that you have to keep in your mind. You may be in the position of making decisions about food intake in a variety of settings.

Residents may have severe dietary restrictions.  Although a Health Authority dietician may work with you to determine dietary needs there may be instances where you need to make decisions.  Some examples could include:

  • Allergies – More and more people are developing allergies not just to single foods like peanuts or tomatoes, but to all foods that include gluten, milk, soy or mustard.  Labels will not necessarily list gluten. You also need to be aware of what allergic reactions look like. Sometimes a person who was fine eating something a month or year ago, can develop sensitivities.

  • Food compulsions – There are many different ways that food can be an issue with people.  If you have residents with food compulsions, you may need to follow a strict routine around securing food.  Also, anything that may be seen as edible must be carefully stored.

  • Medications –  As you know some medications react badly with certain foods.  For example, with some anti-inflammatories, one should not eat grapefruit.  Some medications should be taken with food, others not.

  • Choking -  There are many reasons why from time to time anyone can have trouble swallowing.  With some people this is a constant threat. Remember, choking is usually silent.

  • Exercise level - When people have fewer opportunities for recreation, due to weather, injuries or whatever, they need a lower caloric intake. If decreased activity level is a long-term issue, it will need to be reviewed in the care plan.

  • Dietary restrictions – Many ongoing health issues can include dietary restrictions.  Diabetes, hypertension, allergies and others. When someone in your care cannot make a food decision on their own, it is up to you to be familiar with the care plan.

  • Some individuals have poor judgement regarding temperature and could unwittingly scald themselves.  There may be times you need to ensure food is not too hot.

Apart from individual decisions regarding diet, you may work with people with any number of forms of dementia.  They may have eaten just half an hour previously but they could sit down and eat another meal if a plate was set before them.  

All people have dislikes for a range of reasons, maybe colour, maybe texture, who knows why anyone develops a dislike for certain foods. It is important to be respectful of individual likes and dislikes.

Food is a very important comfort in life and if a person misses a meal for any reason, you do need to have access to give them a healthy snack.  Food can have a calming effect. I always remember my grandmother advising people in distress to have a cup of tea before starting to talk about what was bothering them.  Maybe it was the time it took to make and drink the tea, or maybe it was the soothing effect of the warm liquid on a tense stomach, but it always seemed to bring the stress levels down visibly.

When you are in a caregiving position, your duties will include personal care issues that include potential contamination of your hands many times a day.  Helping others with toileting and other personal cleanliness routines results in you needing to be extra vigilant with your own hand washing regiment to ensure you are not transferring disease when transferring to food handling tasks.

Caregiving can be an immensely rewarding occupation. All it takes to ensure no food borne illnesses or allergic reactions occur is taking the time to be aware of any issues, plan for  them and practice excellent personal hygiene habits.