Caring for someone with dementia is so often a case of trying to reconnect them with who they are, what they have done in their lives and what they enjoy.
You might be able to do it through a conversation, asking questions and prompting responses, but therapists have also found physical props and activities to be great tools. A ‘memory box’ might contain all kinds of items to stimulate different memories from a person’s past; old photographs, things they used to work with, items of clothing, anything that might spark a memory.
Involving people in activities, especially something they’ve done in the past, is another worthwhile therapy, and one of the best might be baking. It’s not just the physical process of baking, but the ingredients, the kitchen utensils and perhaps above all else, the smell of home baking that can be so effective in evoking memories and making that vital connection.
Nationwide charity Dementia UK is a great source of help, advice and support in all aspects of caring for someone with dementia. In the run-up to its annual “Time for a Cuppa” tea party fundraiser earlier this month, one of its specialist Admiral Nurses and an Occupational Therapist took part in a live online Q&A session about baking as a caring activity. It sparked a great deal of interest and as a follow-up the charity has written about it in more detail, with the text reproduced below:
“Baking is an activity you can enjoy together, and whilst some people living with dementia may be able to follow a recipe and bake a cake, baking is a great activity with lots of different steps for people to be involved in, depending on their abilities and preferences. Focus on the enjoyment of doing the activity together and not on achieving a ‘perfect’ bake!
“You may have a favourite family recipe which you may want to adapt, or choose an easy-to-follow recipe. Always plan ahead, you could re-write the recipe in simple steps and make sure you have all the equipment you need to hand. Weigh out the ingredients ready and you may wish to have them in clear, labelled jars so they are easy to identify.
“You could also use a contrasting coloured mixing bowl to the work surface colour so that it’s easy to see (and always remember to check that glasses are on, if they need to be). Kneading, whisking, sieving and stirring are tasks where you could involve someone. You might even have a recipe where you can mix with your (washed) hands and someone can be seated to do these tasks.
“Baking might be an activity someone has always enjoyed, it might have been a job for some and doing the activity gives someone a sense of purpose and value. You may need to consider safety in the kitchen and there are gas alarms and detectors available. You may also wish to consider using an electric hob. You can also set an alarm on your phone as a reminder when baking and keep distractions to a minimum.
“Some people may be happy to look on whilst you’re baking and you can encourage interest by talking about what you’re doing and the smell. This might, in turn, stimulate conversation and memories; ‘Wow, the smell reminds me of…’. Look in old recipe books together and see the kind of food people would have eaten and seen prepared.
“The tasting of a freshly baked cake is another sensory activity and one of the great parts of baking you can enjoy together with a cuppa. There’s another conversation starter there; do you prefer a mug or a cup?”
• For more advice and support from Dementia UK, visit its website by clicking here, or call its free helpline on 0800 888 6678.