Talking Dementia Blog

Discussing the support and skills you need in caring for someone living with dementia

Cooking and dementia: challenges, concerns and strategies from the caregivers’ perspective

Food, sharing meals, and cooking is a central part of all of our lives. Food is often linked to strong emotions, whether it is sharing meals with family at a special occasion, or being able to fix your favorite comfort food after a difficult day. For some people cooking was their role in the family and their purpose for many years. Cooking daily meals is often an essential part of someone’s independence, but many people who have dementia struggle with cooking.

Preparing even a simple meal requires remembering many steps and multitasking. Brain changes that occur in dementia often impair the mental abilities necessary for cooking. Moreover dementia can damage taste and smell making food preparation even more challenging. Difficulties with cooking will come on gradually and may be inconsistent. It can be difficult for both the individual with dementia and their family to know when and how help is needed.

Dealing with change in abilities

Because self-reflection is also often impaired in dementia (the technical word is anosagnosia) many people with dementia can also be resistant to giving up cooking and to losing their role as chef in the family. It is especially difficult for them, as well as for the caregiver, to accept someone else taking over the role or to relying on pre-made food. These changes are a practical and emotional challenge for both the caregiver and the person with dementia. While it won’t erase the changes taking place, the caregiver is helped by acknowledging the loss and finding strategies to moderate the emotional impact of the changes in someone’s ability to participate in preparing meals. Below are some suggestions on how to practically navigate this difficult transition.

When to be worried?

It can be difficult to know when someone with dementia is struggling with cooking. A goal of preserving independence is often at odds with the goal to maintain safety. Below are some questions which can help you to know when someone with dementia may need more assistance with meal preparation.
 

Things to watch for:

It can be difficult to know when someone with dementia is struggling with cooking. A goal of preserving independence is often at odds with the goal to maintain safety. Below are some questions which can help you to know when someone with dementia may need more assistance with meal preparation.
 
  • Struggling with a recipe: Are they struggling to prepare well known recipes?
  • Gettomg mixed up: Do they get mixed up during meal preparation?
  • Forgetting: Do they leave out important steps or ingredients?
  • Mistaken measurements: Are they over/under spicing food?
  • Mishandling appliances: Are appliances being left on after the meal is prepared?
  • Spoiled foods: Are spoiled foods not being thrown away?
  • Miscalculating cooking time: Are meals regularly burnt or under cooked or Do they miscalculate cooking times?
  • Changes in eating patterns:Do you notice that your family member is avoiding cooking or eating meals that do not involve many steps; for example, cereal or a sandwich, more often?

Safety Concerns

In early stages of mild dementia it is possible and sometimes very helpful to have someone who is diagnosed with dementia still involved in cooking. This can often involve cooking together. This not only ensures that cooking is done safely by the person with dementia, but that they have the support they need to be successful. Below are some safety strategies that can be helpful to consider.


Some kitchen safety strategies:

  • Simplify steps: Simplify cooking by having fewer and less complex steps
  • Achievable tasks: Choose tasks that can be easily achieved by the person with dementia
  • Safe utensils: Limit the use of dangerous utensils like knives or blenders
  • Safe appliances: Supervise cooking and the use of appliances; check that the appliances are turned off after use; replace appliances like a kettle or toaster oven with ones that automatically shut off
  • Disable appliances when not in use: Disable appliances by unplugging them, removing fuses or knobs, or find a safety device which prevents the appliance from being turned on.
  • Check for spoiled foods: Regularly check the fridge and pantry to remove old, spoiled food and replace with fresh food
  • Cooking together: Cooking together allows you to give gentle reminders and monitor safety

Nutrition

Access to regular nutritious meals is a key element of independent living. When someone with dementia is unable to reliably provide meals for themselves independently it may be helpful to look at alternative ways that meals can be provided.
 

Cooking alternatives:

  • Meal delivery: Have prepared meals delivered. There are a variety of private and community services available
  • Prepared meals from the store: Buy prepared meals at the grocery store or a local restaurant that can be warmed at home
  • Ask for help: Have family, friends or a professional caregiver help prepare meals
  • Attend seniors programs: Attend seniors community programs where meals are served
For more information and assistance on caregiving challenges in managing dementia at home, please call the Reitman Centre at 416-586-4800 ext. 5882 or send an email to [email protected], visit your local Alzheimer Society or access the Reitman Centre website.

By
 
Sarah Gillespie, MSW, RSW
Mental Health Clinician

 

Cyril, Dorothy, Joel and Jill Reitman Centre
for Alzheimer’s Support and Training & Outpatient Geriatric Psychiatry


Breaking Down Myths of Self-Care for Dementia Caregivers/ Care Partners

Self-care can be a loaded term for caregivers/ care partners of someone living with dementia but it is also a very important tool that can assist in preventing or improving symptoms of caregiver stress or burnout.

Caregivers/ Care partners can react with exasperation at the mention of the “self-care” term. Statements like these are common:

“I don’t have time and it’s too much work”


“I’m fine…I’ll focus on myself later”


“It doesn’t help me, it only makes me feel guilty”

The lives of dementia caregivers/ care partners are often externally focused on those they are caring for and conversations about self-care can create feelings of stress, frustration or anxiety because many messages about what self-care is can be confusing or vague.

In this article, we’ll explore two common myths about self-care.  We’ll break down what they are, explore the obstacles they involve and offer some alternative ways of understanding and engaging in self-care activities.

 

Self-Care Myth: I don’t have time.

Self-care is time consuming and needs to be planned in advance.

Myth Breaker: What is Self-Care for Caregivers?

Self-care can be anything, as long as it gives you a sense of accomplishment or pleasure.

Sense of Accomplishment: Activities that offer a sense of accomplishment are often practical in nature; for example paying the bills, tidying an area of your home, mowing the lawn.

Sense of Pleasure: Activities that offer a sense of pleasure are not practical. These activities help us to enjoy ourselves, feel calm or energized; for example, a bike ride, gardening, visiting a place of worship, meditation, going out to the movies, a nap. If you are not interested in an activity, then it is not self-care.

Obstacles to Self-Care

In our work we often hear from care partners that it’s easier to emphasize the practical activities and more difficult to make time for activities that offer pleasure and calm.

Many care partners report feelings of guilt, remorse or regret when they try to plan a self-care activity. They may also feel pressured to “get the most” out of their self-care activity, because they know the experience was planned as a way to relax.

Learnings: What Can I Do?

It’s important to understand that doing self care activities may not feel good right away. As you make your self care a priority it’s normal to feel frustrated and for thoughts like “it’s useless, I don’t have time, it’s not working” to come up. This is a normal process of change. These thoughts and feelings will decrease with practice. Small consistent changes will add up over time.

  1. Look ahead in your calendar, and find a time that works for you. The amount of time is up to you, 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 1 hour.
  2. Then list the activity you plan to do:
    1. Are you planning a practical activity, like getting the bills paid, folding the laundry, a doctor’s appointment for yourself?
    2. Is it a pleasure activity, like a short walk, gardening, reading, coffee with a friend?
    3. Be mindful if you are scheduling more practical than pleasure self-care activities.

 

Self-Care Myth: I feel fine

I don’t need self-care, I feel fine.

Myth Breaker: What is Self-Care for Caregivers?

Everyone can benefit from reducing stress. Research shows that people in a caregiver role are at higher risk for physical and mental health illnesses. For example, caregivers can have more difficulty with sleep, heart health issues, and an increased risk for diabetes, depression and anxiety. You may feel exhausted, depressed, anxious and irritable on a daily basis. The physical and emotional challenges occur over the period of caregiving.

Obstacles to Self-Care

Focusing on the person you are caring for, their emotional, physical and practical needs, becomes second nature for care partners. Some care partners describe feelings of guilt, frustration and resentment when they are told “take care of yourself”. Trying to balance all of the tasks and responsibilities, while also doing things for yourself can seem impossible.

Learnings: What Can I Do?

Caring for someone with dementia is complex and challenging. Improving and maintaining your own well-being will help improve your mental, emotional and physical health. Taking time for self-care can help you do the caregiving tasks in a more efficient and productive manner. When caregivers include their own self-care as a priority, both the caregiver and the family member with dementia benefit.

 

Quiz:  Are You at Risk for Developing Caregiver Stress?

People who experience caregiver stress report feelings of physical and emotional exhaustion, new or worsening health problems, difficulty concentrating and increased feelings of anxiety, depression and irritability.  Take our quiz to see if you are at risk for developing caregiver stress.


By

Andrea Cain, M.A., R.P.
Mental Health Clinician and Instructor


Gita Lakhanapal, OT Reg(Ont), R.P. , MES
Educator – Mental Health Clinician

Cyril, Dorothy, Joel and Jill Reitman Centre
for Alzheimer’s Support and Training & Outpatient Geriatric Psychiatry


The Globe & Mail highlights our Enhancing Care dementia support programs as care models for the looming aging and caregiver crisis.

The front page of this Saturday’s Globe and Mail featured a powerful story by @ZosiaBielski on the elder care crisis that’s leaving “families stressed, exhausted and looking for help…” The article, With a looming aging crisis, who is helping the caregivers?, defined the crisis in these terms:

“…elder care leaves families stressed, exhausted and looking for help, a challenge particularly felt by women. A patchwork of hospital programs, government supports and online communities….offer a blueprint for the way forward, bringing family caregivers to the foreground in medicine, while keeping them healthy themselves.”

The Globe highlighted the Enhancing Care for Dementia Care Partners program as one of those models offering “a blue print for the way forward”, saying:

“…For caregivers helping relatives and friends who live with dementia, the Sinai Health System’s Reitman Centre in Toronto and Alzheimer Societies across Ontario now provide in-person and online programs that offer psychological support and skills training on managing dementia-related behaviours. Funded by the province, the programs teach caregivers how to overcome difficult scenarios at home and meaningfully communicate with their loved ones as the disease takes its toll.

Ms. Beed believes these kinds of educational help hubs are increasingly necessary.

“Our generation is looking at caring for really complex illnesses in our parents, siblings, children or partners,” she said. “The complexity of the demand has shifted over the generations. It’s not like we have a lot of role models…”

Below are a sampling of some of the professional voices, caregiver advocates and discussion generated on social media around the article:

André Picard |

Health columnist at The Globe and Mail

Kelly Grant |

Health news reporter for The Globe and Mail

Zosia Bielski |

Journalist for The Globe and Mail

Dr. Nathan Stall |

Geriatrics/Internal Medicine @MountSinai

The Change Foundation

Tips | Health and wellbeing tips for seniors who are caring from a person living with dementia.

With National #Caregiver Day upon us we’re starting a short series of wellbeing and safety tips for senior caregivers who are caring for someone living with dementia.

One in five Canadians are caring for someone with dementia. More than 1 million caregivers are older than 65. Seniors are caring for seniors and caregiver wellbeing is critical to the health and safety of those they are caring for.

When caring for someone living with dementia the use of gentle touch can be comforting and reassuring to the care recipient and for the caregiver too. Holding a hand or a friendly hug can maintain a much needed connection for both.

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