Cooking is a relaxing activity that brings calm and joy to people of all ages. Unfortunately, it becomes increasingly difficult to cook safely as a person develops dementia.
If a loved one or patient in your care is coping with dementia but is eager to get back in the kitchen, then I’ve got some ideas that just might help.
Below are six simple but fun cooking activities for dementia patients can perform as long as you’re there to help.
1. Bake Miniature Pizzas
Often times, the joy of cooking comes from choosing your own favorite mix of ingredients and experiencing the unique results. Pizza happens to be one of the best dishes for this type of enjoyment. You can purchase pizza dough pre-made at most grocery stores along with a large variety of different ingredients. By choosing to make miniature pizzas you can increase the variety and experiment even more.
Miniature pizzas do require high heats to cook and are going to require using a stove. Depending on your situation, a toaster oven might be easier for the senior to use. You may need to slice some common ingredients like onions, pineapples, or meat. You can handle these tougher stages while the patient focuses on selecting and placing the ingredients. Don’t forget to experiment with different sauces as well for even better results.
2. Build Sub Sandwiches
Who doesn’t love a good sandwich from Subways or Quiznos? They work just as well for dinner as they do for lunch. If you’re planning an outdoor trip or visit to the park, then taking some time with the patient to prepare a few sub sandwiches is a great idea. They are very easy to make, can support a large variety of ingredients, and don’t require any additional cooking.
The different possible combinations of ingredients seem almost endless if you’re not afraid to experiment. You can’t go wrong with the traditional recipes like the BLT or the tuna sub. Or you can mix it up with even healthier ingredients like kale and turkey.
In terms of safety, there’s not much risk involved when making a sub. Some ingredients may require peeling or slicing. You should handle these steps unless the patient is noticeably dexterous or is wearing the proper safety equipment. You can also purchase specially designed safety peelers that present little to no risk when peeling vegetables.
3. Prepare A Fruit Salad
In general, preparing a salad is one of the safest cooking activities a person can enjoy. No cooking is required unless you’re adding meat. That’s why we chose to stick with a fruit salad, which has no meat or otherwise cooked ingredients.
It is nutritious too so this is a good activity for teaching people with dementia about nutrition as well.
Similar to sandwiches and pizzas, fruit salads are a great choice because they include all of the various cooking activities that we love. That includes choosing ingredients, washing and preparing ingredients, peeling and cutting fruit, and then combining them in a way that is visually appealing and delicious.
And this can all be accomplished by a patient with dementia, though a little help from a caregiver goes a long way. The only real safety risks involved come from peeling and slicing the fruit. But a safety peeler and safety gloves make this a safer task for a dementia patient who maintains their dexterity.
4. Helping With The Cake
I don’t advise that a patient with dementia prepare, bake, and decorate an entire cake themselves. It is a daunting task with a lot of difficult steps along the way. However, this large number of different stages is what makes it such a great cooking activity for a dementia patient as long as they have some help.
There are several steps in the recipe that a person with dementia could accomplish. Helping with these steps will be enough to provide the therapeutic benefits of activities like cooking. They may also provide some appreciated nostalgia if the patient grew up baking bread or cake.
The first activity they can help with is kneading or preparing the dough. Kneading dough feels a lot like manual labor, but it’s been called therapeutic by people who grew up doing it regularly. It’s entirely safe and consists of a series of repeated motions. The simplicity and familiarity of kneading dough can even help trigger memories.
Perhaps the most fun step is icing and decorating the cake at the end. Once again, this is a fun, simple, and safe step that anyone can partake in. You can purchase a large variety of pre-made icings at most local grocery stores. Combine that with other decorations like sprinkles, nuts, or coconut shavings. This gives a dementia patient the chance to enjoy cooking and to express their creative side.
5. Help Prepare Other Foods
Cake isn’t the only food that involves a lot of steps. Many dishes are simply too dangerous for a patient with dementia to cook alone. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be involved with the process. Helping with important steps along the way is enough to provide someone with the joy of cooking.
Washing and peeling vegetables is a common step with many recipes. Whether it’s a soup or salad; a few slices of clean carrot or onion are going to make the dish a lot better. A dementia patient may not be able to slice the vegetables depending on their dexterity and capabilities. However, washing and peeling are generally much safer as long as the right tools are used.
Preparing and shaping dough is another prep step that anyone can get involved with. This was touched on briefly for baking cakes, but there are plenty of other bread recipes where the same rules apply. Rolling and tossing pizza dough, shaping a fresh loaf of bread, or adding fruits as you prepare a banana loaf. These are all fun and creative cooking activities that are entirely safe.
6. Mixing A Vinaigrette
The art of making a proper vinaigrette has been lost on many thanks to their widespread availability at most supermarkets. Even so, creating a homemade vinaigrette is a great way to save money and have safe fun in the kitchen. Vinaigrette is also very flexible in terms of the ingredients, spices, and other flavors that can be used.
The basis of every vinaigrette is a combination of acid and oil. The traditional vinaigrette has a ratio of 1 part vinegar for every 3 parts oil. The vinegar is used as the acidic ingredient, though it can be easily substituted with citric acid like lemon or orange juice for a much better flavor.
As you and the patient improve at making the vinaigrette, you’ll also learn new and exciting ways to use them. There are many other safe cooking activities that can incorporate vinaigrette. The most obvious example is a salad. Making a salad is a fun and safe cooking activity, and every salad tastes better with the right vinaigrette.
A vinaigrette can also be incorporated into the preparation stages of many other meals. It can be used as a marinade for a variety of meats or as an extra source of flavor before cooking begins. From there, you can advance into making other types of sauces and emulsions that are safe and simple to prepare at home.
Keep It Safe And Stay Aware
As fun as cooking might be, there are definitely some dangers involved. Kitchen safety should always be a primary concern when cooking with a patient who has dementia. You read more kitchen safety tips for seniors with dementia here.
There are plenty of sharp objects and high temperatures that could cause a problem. Just as you always keep an eye on the food you should always keep an eye on the patient. And remember to use safety equipment like gloves whenever possible.
Check out this article for more things seniors with dementia can do with their hands.