How to involve someone with dementia in food preparation
Helping to prepare food is an activity many people enjoy throughout their lifetime. For people with Alzheimer’s disease, helping with food preparation has extra benefits: it can not only help them maintain certain physical abilities, but also stimulate conversation and memory.
At the Alzheimer Society of Peel’s Brunel Day Program, our members help prepare food at the start or end of each day. Based on someone’s level of functioning and the type of food preparation, members can help with different tasks. Each activity, no matter how small the contribution, is important.
For our baking program, members help to sort, measure, add and mix ingredients. People with motor skill deficiencies can still participate by reading out the recipes. For someone far progressed in the disease, baking programs work as a sensory program. The aromas of the ingredients or the scents of the food baking help keep them stimulated.
Another cooking program we’ve done is Pounds of Potatoes. Members help peel and chop potatoes for mashed potatoes. They do the same for vegetables to make soup. Those who may struggle with knives and peelers can set tables for member lunch. To help them, we have a table set up in the kitchen with labelled bins with pictures, indicating what is to go inside, i.e. dishes, cups, cutlery etc.
Staff provide verbal and visual cues throughout the food preparation process. Verbal cues could be anything from explaining each step, to simple requests, for example, “can you take this spoon and mix the batter?” or “please pour the milk into the measuring cup,” or even, “can you help me set this table?” As complex instructions can be overwhelming, simplicity is key.
Visual cues can range from presenting the utensils or supplies being used to printing out the ingredients or recipe in large font to help the members read it. We also use hand over hand techniques as sometimes they might just need that little bit of guidance. But sometimes all the cueing they need is putting the utensil in their hand or pointing to what they need.
Staff also monitor for safety. We will sit right next to members while they use knives. All of our “sharps” are locked in the kitchen in a specific cabinet. It also helps to use utensils with built up handles as they are easier to hold. We would never give a utensil to a member who would not be able to use it safely or effectively. In fact, outside of food preparation activities, members do not enter the kitchen space to keep them away from the stove and coffee and tea percolators.
All of these activities, from cutting the vegetables to cleaning the tables, help members maintain their skills and give them sense of purpose and independence. But these food preparation programs are about more than helping people stay functional. They also help stimulate reminiscing conversations about their favourite meals or how they were cooked. Food preparation programs are not only purposeful, but meaningful and help stimulate memory.
For more mealtime tips for people with Alzheimer’s disease, visit our website.
Acting Program Manager, Alzheimer Society of Peel