Dementia Helping Hand
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Speaking from my own experience, dementia cooking and kitchen safety is a topic that you should be aware of.
This means, basically, that if you are a caregiver for a loved one with dementia, then you should plan to take over the cooking of meals. That, or be willing to sacrifice some cookware.
Earlier on in my mom’s dementia journey, while she was still cooking, we had an incident with a small saucepan. I was upstairs at the time. Mom had opened a can of vegetables, put them in a pan, and went about putting them on a burner.
Ding, ding, ding. Uh oh. Can you guess where this is headed?
I bet you guessed correctly! Some time went by and I started to smell something burning. I went downstairs and noticed that the pan had gone dry and the vegetables were burning and sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Mom was in the living room sitting on the couch looking at something, not even aware of the smell.
That was the end of that pan! I couldn’t get those scorch marks and burnt-on food out of that pan. It was easier to just throw it out.
Well, that pretty much was a kick in my butt telling me that I needed to be in the kitchen when Mom wanted to cook or I needed to cook and have her help.
We know that with dementia, the memory slowly fades. What used to be an everyday occurrence now becomes a task that’s difficult because your loved one may not remember all the steps it takes to put something on the burner, or how to put a roast in the oven, or in my mom’s case, how to turn the oven on.
Here’s a shot of the directions for turning on the oven that I wrote out for Mom after she had told me that she had forgotten how.
Another example of something I should have been there to do – I had made a plate of food for Mom but she wasn’t hungry at the time. I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge. I wrote out directions on how to heat up the plate and taped that to the plastic wrap on the plate.
When I came home a couple of hours later, I found that Mom had put the plate into the microwave but didn’t eat it. I ended up throwing it out because I wasn’t sure how long it had been sitting in there.
Along with the memory decline comes impaired judgment, like putting the wrong kind of pan into a microwave or eating expired food products.
Reasoning skills are lacking as well. I’m sure you’ve found weird things in weird places by now if you’re a caregiver. I found a candle in a kitchen cupboard one time. That told me that Mom wasn’t able to comprehend that candles don’t normally go in that cupboard. Or pie plates in the “snack” drawer!
Kitchens are a danger zone for someone with impaired judgment and a lack of reasoning skills. Here are just a few to think about:
Hot oven. Not only for the risk of being hot and possibly burning themselves but the risk of putting something into the oven that shouldn’t be placed in there.
Hot burners. This is especially tough when you have the ceramic stove tops – even though the burner isn’t glowing “red hot” the burner is still on & your loved one may not be able to remember that something was on the burner and perhaps put their hand on the buner.
Water that runs too hot.
Faucets that aren’t clearly marked Hot/Cold. You can’t take it for granted that your LO will remember what H or C means anymore.
Microwave. Who knows what your loved one might try to nuke!
Remove the knobs on the stove or install a safety guard.
Disconnect the garbage disposal.
Remove artificial fruits and vegetables if any are displayed in bowls as well as food-shaped magnets or items that look like fruits/vegetables.
Remove or place elsewhere the following items – cleaning products, alcohol, matches, knives, scissors, plastic bags. If you can’t move them somewhere else, install child-proof latches.
Make sure you have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms.
Move items to lower-level shelves/cupboards to reduce the chance of falls.
Lower the temperature on the water heater.
Go through the refrigerator and pantry/cupboards and check for expired food items.
Have a fire extinguisher nearby.
Find a microwave that has a very simple dial to use.
The act of cooking for a patient with dementia is very beneficial. The smells and actions stimulate their senses. It brings back good memories such as kneading dough for bread and baking cookies. These will help with an increase in appetite as well.
You’ll have to judge their ability level but you can still have them help in the kitchen by doing tasks like these:
Prep work – washing fruit and vegetables, peeling carrots & potatoes
Setting the table
Clearing the table
Drying the dishes then putting them away*
* You may have to go searching for things in the kitchen as I did if you let your loved one put things away without any direction. 😀 😀
Choose meals that are assembled rather than cooked. Or have few ingredients and simple steps.
If your loved one with dementia cooked before and continues to enjoy cooking then let him/her do it. Just have a plan in mind for kitchen safety that accommodates a person with dementia in their cooking endeavors and maybe a set of extra pans!!
Take these tips and put them into place to make your life as a caregiver go more smoothly.