As many of you know, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting over 740,000 Canadians and nearly 44 million worldwide. Although we are closer to a possible cure, those affected can only manage their symptoms with the best tools and resources that they have. If you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, it’s important that they remain active, both in terms of their body and mind.
Encourage them to do things they once loved, whether that be painting, playing piano, or cooking. Speaking of cooking — it is one activity which also has the ability to influence positive health, both in terms of healthier meals and the ways in which it encourages individuals to remain active.
Case Study – The Inspiring Story of Paula Wolfert
At the age of 76, Paula Wolfert was beginning to lose her memory, not remembering how to make an omelette. To you and I, this may not seem overly odd, however, Paula had spent decades cooking professionally, winning numerous awards and publishing nine Mediterranean cookbooks.
Nearly two years later, she was diagnosed with Benson’s syndrome, an atypical form of Alzheimer’s. Born in France, Paula grew up in Morocco, where mealtime was always a special event. Today, she continues to cook, focusing on a range of vegetables, plenty of fish, and numerous spices.
She has experienced changes in terms of her senses, losing her strong ability to taste and smell as she once did. She continues to cook for her children and she admits, when they request a certain dish and she goes back to her cookbooks, memories do come flooding in. She realizes that she cannot cure her disease, but she’s determined to make life easier.
When she contacted the Alzheimer’s Association, she admits that she could not care for herself alone, she most certainly needed guidance. Although she cannot cook alone and has a caregiver that contributes to her day-to-day life, she continues to drink a smoothie every day, practice yoga, and once a week, she dines with a group of women her age who are still in the workforce.
The point is, Paula lives with her disease, but has not allowed it to consume her. Living in California, Paula helped start a Memory Cafe, encouraging others with dementia and Alzheimer’s to stay socially engaged and happy. If you or your loved one have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and once loved to cook, don’t be shy to encourage that side of them to shine once again.
The Benefits of Cooking When You Have Alzheimer’s
From cognitive to emotional benefits, cooking is an enjoyable activity that provides joy and a sense of purpose. When participating in this activity together, you also get to spend quality time with one another. Here are two key reasons to get into the kitchen.
It’s believed that both music and cooking are positive areas that can help with behavioral issues. If an individual with dementia once loved to cook, it’s important to make this activity accessible. When cooking becomes enjoyable and functional for an Alzheimer’s patient, this can provide a sense of independence and purpose. It can challenge them, but in a positive manner.
Someone with dementia can become easily irritated and upset, as increased anxiety is fairly common. Cooking can be viewed as a therapeutic activity, reducing emotional and possibly behavioral side effects. If you care for someone with dementia, getting involved as you support them in the kitchen, will encourage a more positive environment.
It’s also important to mention the connection between negative emotions and poor eating habits. Although this connection has been documented within the general population, it can also apply to individuals with Alzheimer’s. If they’re more upbeat and content, they will be more willing to consume a balanced diet, while spending time with their family around the dinner table.
Of course, each individual will be at a different stage, displaying various signs and symptoms. Their safety should always be the number one priority, regardless of the activity and its possible benefits. Keep it simple and try to develop a routine. Let them complete simple tasks within a safe and well-lit cooking space. They key is remaining active and engaged, while encouraging a nutritious diet.
The Alzheimer’s Society of Toronto has developed a program, known as the Active Living Program. There are a number of wonderful classes and activities to take part in, including watercolour painting, music therapy, and a men’s cooking group. This four-week course is offered twice a year, focusing on men who are caring for a loved one. Hands-on training helps these caregivers bring the joy of cooking back into the home. You can find out more information at www.alz.to.