Cooking and baking are two well-loved traditions passed down from generation to generation. For those who love it, the therapeutic benefits of cooking can provide for a wonderful experience.

As we age, we tend to eat less than we used to. But, it’s increasingly important to eat fresh, homemade meals for nutritional value. Many older adults often cook less because they don’t want to end up with large portions that won’t be eaten, and seniors living with dementia may stop wanting to cook altogether, even with the assistance of loved ones.

So although it may be more convenient to have meals prepared, there are many benefits of cooking to reap when we keep the art alive.

In fact, did you know that can meet two of the most pressing needs for people living with dementia – eating nutritious meals and engaging them in activities – in the kitchen?

Benefits of Cooking for Sense Stimulation

The idea is to stimulate their senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, hearing) involved in cooking while employing their active involvement in the process. Because so many senses are involved, cooking can potentially trigger happy memories. And it’s a great way to bond with a person living with dementia.

Consider all the stimulating elements associated with preparing food, such as touching the utensils and cooking foods of different textures. Texture is not the only property that provides tactile stimulation. Temperature is differentiated using the sense of touch. Wet or dry is also tactile, as is sticky.

Researchers have found improvement due to tactile stimulation in short and long-term memory in people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. General mood also improved, as did the willingness to socialize.

Stirring, kneading, and dividing food items into portions can improve dexterity and fine motor skills, which are often severely impaired in people with dementia. Plus, the activities also provide a sense of purpose to the senior.

The sense of smell is one of the first senses affected by many types of dementia. Because our ability to smell is connected to our ability to taste, many people living with dementia lose their appetite.

When cooking, try increasing the amount of flavoring or seasonings. For example, if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of orange zest, increase it to two tablespoons.

And the heat of spices is not reliant upon our sense of smell, so your senior loved one can taste the spiciness of curry powder, cayenne, and tabasco sauce without any problems.

Sensory stimulation therapy is used for people living with dementia. Everyday sounds like those heard while cooking—running water, stirring a pot, or frying a steak — can keep your loved one alert as they interact with his or her surroundings.

To enhance your senior’s appetite, use different tastes, colors and smells. Don’t overload their plate, and give them food they like (keep in mind their food preferences may change from one day to the next). Vary the temperatures of food and drink. You can gently remind your senior living with dementia to eat, but results generally aren’t favorable if you pressure them.

The color of the plate the food is served on seems to make a difference. A study conducted at Boston University researchers found that dementia patients eating from red plates consumed 25 percent more food than those eating from white plates.

Dementia-Friendly Food Ideas

Choose easy recipes with few ingredients and simple steps for preparation. Foods that just need to be assembled and not cooked like green salads, fruit salads, and sub sandwiches work well. Mini-pizzas made with pre-made dough and topped with their favorite ingredients are a good idea. And mixing a simple salad dressing requires just a few ingredients.

Find alternative recipes for those recipes that may be too challenging. Instead of making banana bread, make banana smoothies. If you decide to bake a cake or follow a bread recipe, divide tasks according to your senior’s ability. For example, maybe they can help by measuring ingredients and placing them in a bowl, or knead dough, stir batter, or add the icing.

Kitchen Safety Tips

  • Make sure the kitchen is well-lit
  • Eliminate the kitchen rugs, as they could be a tripping hazard
  • Tape down electrical cords, which also could be tripping hazards
  • Make sure your senior does not wear loose-fitting clothing with flowing sleeves, which could ignite when coming in contact with a burner.
  • Ensure that the kitchen has a working smoke detector and a portable fire extinguisher nearby
  • Use non-breakable dishes, cups, and bowls
  • Set the hot water heater to low (about 120 degrees) to avoid scalding

For more tips on helping seniors with dementia please visit Bethesda’s Health & Wellness blog.

Bethesda has a 133-year tradition of providing excellent senior living options, including independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing. If you are considering memory care, we welcome you to tour one of our exceptional communities, including Bethesda Dilworth, Bethesda Meadow, Bethesda Southgate, and Bethesda Hawthorne Place. Discover the level of care that only a non-profit staffed by highly-trained nurses, therapists, and aids can offer.