Cooking with Dementia (aka: Hamburger Helper Blues)

Leah Health Guide
  • I am a little frustrated right now with cooking.  I have finally begun to have enough energy to do a little cooking.  Most of the time, I prepare dishes from memory, like cooking a roast, chicken, or hamburgers/hotdogs, making mashed potatoes, cooking rice, making chili or soup, and heating up canned vegetables.  These are what make up most of the meals my husband and I have.  But, there are times that I want something different.


    Having dementia means having short term memory loss.  What the normal person takes for granted can “bust the butt” of those who are challenged with little short term memory. For anyone who has never experienced this, here is what happens when I try to cook something as simple as Hamburger Helper: (the amounts may not be accurate—I can’t remember exactly what they are and it’s not important in this example.)

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    1. Brown 1 pound of hamburger…this part is easy.


    2. Add water…how much?  Look at the instructions.  I need a two cup measuring cup.  Okay…now, how much water?  Look at the instructions again.  2 ½ cups water.  Hot water.  Do I have to heat the hot water from the tap?  Is it hot enough?  Hmm…guess not.  Now, how much water?  Look at box again.  Oh yeah, 2 ½ cups water.  Okay.  I measure 2 ½ cups.  Now what do I do?  Look at box again.  Add to drained meat.  Okay.  Now what?  Look at box again.  Add sauce mix and rice.  I dump out all the packages from the box.  There are four.  Which one(s) do I need first?  Look at directions again.  I need the sauce and rice.  I set these two aside and get scissors to cut off the tops.  I cut off the tops and pour into the pan.  And then I stir.  Now what?  Look at the box again.  Bring to a boil and lower temperature.  Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  I wait for it to boil, and I lower the temperature.  Do I cover it?  I don’t remember reading that.  I reread the box and find that indeed I do need to cover it, which I do.  Now, how long do I set the timer for?  Look at the box again.  15 minutes.  Then, I let it cook for fifteen minutes until the timer goes off.  Never once did I stir it, as the box requested.  Times up.  I have two packs left from the box.  Where do they go?  Topping directions:  Add 1 cup of milk, stir for 30 seconds, and let stand.  I do that, a little late, but…better late than never.  I drizzle it over the top.  Now, I reread the directions for the thousandth time to find out that I should have waited.  I should have sprinkled the fourth pack of dorito-type stuff over the top and THEN drizzled the cheese topping.  Oh well, on goes the dorito topping…once it goes into the mouth, it all gets mixed up anyways!


    I hope I haven’t bored you with my rendition of the Hamburger Helper Blues…  I am hoping that you see how something as simple as Hamburger Helper can be a real challenge for those of us with short term memory loss!

Published On: October 09, 2008