Dementia Takes on the Kitchen!

Leah Health Guide
  • Keeping one's mind busy-and organized-is not easy when one has vascular dementia. There are activities throughout one's day that require short term memory, the area most affected by my vascular dementia. Cooking is where I seem to run into my biggest problems.


    From my earliest memories, I can remember wanting to help my mother in the kitchen. Of course, she started me out helping to stir cookies or pouring cake batter. That progressed to, of all things, tuna salad...and then potato salad...I can remember that my mother rarely had to use a recipe. She had learned from her mother and mother-in-law. Of course, everything was cooked "from scratch" in the olden days. Now, with the onset of already prepared products, one would think cooking would be easier, and, for most, it certainly is. But NOT for those of us with dementia! What seems simple to prepare-take Hamburger Helper, for instance-is anything but easy! Manufacturers have gotten smart and include PICTURES on the box or package. That may help people with reading disabilities or where English is a second language...but it's not a lot of help when your short term memory is just that-SHORT! Even with Hamburger Helper, I have to look and relook and look again and again at the directions. What should take five minutes and turn into a much longer time-and mistakes can be made!

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    Let me tell you about my most recent adventure in the kitchen. I wanted to make my husband his favorite cookie-oatmeal raisin. I assembled all the ingredients first-I've found that it easier to put them in front of me and to arrange them in the order they will be used.


    Secondly, I read the recipe to ascertain the utensils I will need and lay them out. These usually include at least one bowl for mixing, the mixer, spoons, measuring spoons, etc. On this particular day, I was a bit nervous as it had been a long while since I had undertaken such a big task as making cookies from scratch. I mixed the cookies and began baking them. Upon checking on them in the oven, I noticed that they looked a little funny. As I was checking the second pan, I remember thinking that they looked a bit like brown sugar cookies...and I was quite perplexed because I KNEW I wasn't making brown sugar cookies, although at that moment I couldn't remember the exact cookie I WAS making. So, I did what all good cooks would do...I checked my recipe before putting in a third pan of cookies. Lo and behold, I discovered I was making oatmeal raisin cookies... and then I realized I hadn't put in the oatmeal!!! Now, that was just crazy!!!


    But, you want to know the craziest part? I put in some oatmeal...and the cookies were good. But, I just now remember that I never put in the raisins!!! Just NOW I remembered...and I checked with my husband and he said, "Yup, no raisins!" Thus is just one example of what baking with dementia can be like.

    I would like to encourage, rather than discourage, those with dementia to still keep trying to cook and/or bake. Just the exercise of following a recipe is great for your mind!


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    Some people will need more guidance and overseeing than others, so please take that into consideration before starting. Begin with a simple recipe. Here are some suggestions I have:


    1. Read and reread the recipe before starting. If possible, cook things with the fewest number of steps. Consider the amount of time you will be taking to complete the recipe, too. If it's long and involved, you may want to choose another recipe.


    2. Assemble all your needed ingredients first. You don't know how many times I've started, only to find out what I remembered having, I had used up already and didn't remember using it.

    3. Set your ingredients out in the order you will be using them.

    4. Assemble all bowls, pans, and utensils you will need. Check to see if you need both wet and dry measuring cups. Have multiple sets of measuring
    spoons, too. Having to wash a measuring spoon during preparation time just adds to the confusion.

    5. Set the recipe up right in front of the bowl. Just having to look left or right can be exhausting (and distracting)!

    6. Check and double check measurement requirements...I can never remember whether I needed a Tablespoon or a teaspoon once I scoop up the spoons...

    7. Definitely set a timer when baking!

    8. Stay in the kitchen at all times. Don't try to multi-task right now!!! Do everything you NOT to get distracted! (Note: You might want to use the bathroom before you start working with your recipe, too! LOL)


    I'm not going to give any more hints as eight is more than enough to get started. If you are like me, too many of any one thing gets confusing.
    Wishing you great success with your baking!

Published On: April 03, 2012