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How can cooking activities positively impact older people?

How can cooking activities positively impact older people?
11th January 2010

How can cooking activities positively impact older people?
Preparing food is something that many people from all walks of life take great pleasure in. Some make a living out of it, others have become famous from it and those in care homes can benefit from the wonders of food preparation as well.

Dr. Terry Tucker, director of learning, development and hospitality at Barchester Healthcare, noted that older people often enjoy food a lot more when they are aware of what they are going to eat. Even just taking part in the cooking process through small tasks such as peeling carrots or making fresh coffee, with its pleasant aromas, can wet their appetites and get them excited about food.

Barchester has involved residents in cooking through numerous activities. Terry explained that in the past, residents have made shortbread and Christmas cake.

"It goes without saying that food is an important factor when providing a good quality of life for older people," she said. “Dining is a delightful, social experience that people should look forward to and food should be delicious as well as nutritious to ensure that older people are getting all the vitamins and minerals that their bodies need. Involving people in activities such as food preparation helps them to become more involved with the food they are going to eat, which in turn It also helps maintain their appetite and keeps them enjoying their food."

Terry has gone to even further lengths in the past to get older people active with their food. She has written two cookery books based on residents' recipes, one of which is called Nutritious and Delicious and is available to buy from Amazon.

When researching these books, Terry asked the chefs at each of Barchester's 200 care homes to talk with residents about food to make it a topic of conversation and of interest. Residents spoke about their favourite recipes and from this the chefs went away and cooked a meal for them. These were then included in the books.

As a result residents have taken great delight in seeing their recipes printed and this has made them even more involved in cooking and even selecting the ingredients, Terry continued.

Chefs are also encouraged to experiment and get residents trying out things they may not have had in the past, such as smoothies, and this has proved to be very beneficial, according to Terry.

It seems the act of cooking can also help in residents' overall wellbeing. Director of dementia services at Barchester, Sheena Wyllie noted that creating meals can be more than just about food preparation - it is also about recall. Reminiscing and having the chance to talk about what they associate with cooking can be beneficial for those with dementia, Ms Wyllie pointed out.

The process may help bring back memories of grandparents, their life as a child, their experiences as a parent when they cooked for their children, or what they used to eat, Sheena explained.

She continued: "It may actually not be associated with food at all, it may just be associated with an emotional memory of eating Sunday lunch or something similar.

"For people with dementia, the trigger is actually familiarity so if you are talking about cooking you need to be in a kitchen that looks, sounds, smells and tastes like a kitchen," Sheena noted. This can include foodstuff, pots and pans as well as familiar items and objects that the residents can "really feel, taste and touch", she added. Barchester has made this possible in many of their homes with Life style kitchens for residents in cook and bake in.

Of course, the link between dementia and diet is something that has been picked up on numerous times in the past. This was highlighted by recent research, published in the journal Molecular Neurodegeneration, which indicated that a high-protein diet may increase a person's chances of developing Alzheimer's.

Tests showed that mice which were fed foods similar to those found in the original Atkins Diet had brains five per cent lighter than the others involved in the study. With this in mind, perhaps educating people about food preparation can be of benefit to both those with dementia as well as those without.