The Power of Food for Memory Care Patients

There’s no varnishing the truth: Alzheimer’s is cruel, especially as we watch it slowly take the person we love.

That’s why it’s important to us to give our clients and their families the tools to make the most of the time they have. One way to do that is finding opportunities that help our clients feel connected to who they are.

Food often plays an important role, because food can bring people back to themselves and the people in their lives.

The powerful effects of food

What’s so special about food? There are a few important reasons it is so powerful.

Humans build multisensory attachments to the things that matter to them. Food just so happens to check off all the boxes. When we see a beautiful image of our favorite entrée, our stomachs rumble a bit in response. Food makes specific sounds when it’s prepared and served. Think of the sound of chopping onions, sizzling meat and the sound hot water makes when it’s poured into a mug for afternoon tea.

In addition to aroma and flavor, we also anticipate the textures of specific foods. Think of a hard piece of chocolate going all gooey and soft, releasing its deep flavors.

Food is also foundational to the important relationships in our lives. That’s why special occasions are built around food. We feel deeply loyal to our grandmother’s brownies, even though they were all baked from the same recipe in their Betty Crocker cookbooks. We all have to eat, and most of us can name off long lists of foods that we love.

These sensory experiences and emotional attachments to food still elicit powerful responses in people, even in advanced memory care.

Here’s a look at some of the things we do at Arthur’s to leverage these responses to connect with our clients.

Welcome to our kitchen!

One of the great things about Arthur’s residential-style set-up is everyone has easy access to the kitchen. That means our activities department doesn’t have to come up with any special programming. Time spent in the kitchen together just happens organically.

  • Some clients want to be kitchen helpers, and they do so by adding ingredients, as well as stirring, pouring and shaping — whatever they’re up for.
  • Some clients just keep us company while we prepare meals, by sitting at the counter in tall stools, or at the table in their wheelchairs. They love being in this relaxing atmosphere full of good smells and happy conversation.
  • Others help with cleanup.

However they participate, all are welcome in the kitchen. As we discussed in an earlier blog, feeling needed is so important to their well-being, and our time in the kitchen together plays an important role.

Cooking up their favorites

Another thing that makes life at Arthur’s special is our ability to customize meals. As we get to know the clients, we find we can get them going about their favorite snacks and entrees, the foods that are most special to them.

For example, one of our clients used to live in Italy, and discovered the life-changing experience of dining on seafood, pulled fresh from the ocean. Of course, we couldn’t match the freshness. But he would occasionally sit in the kitchen, giving orders and suggestions to the staff as they prepared his favorite Italian seafood cuisines. It felt a little like the high-stakes cooking competitions you watch on TV, but without the stress. Overall, the challenge made for a fun and stimulating atmosphere.

Another client was born in Latvia, and she often requests we make her favorite lunch. We’re more than happy to oblige, though we will add that so far, no one has been brave enough to partake with her.

Are you up for the challenge? Her favorite lunch is liverwurst on pumpernickel with cream cheese and sauerkraut, served with sides of pickled beets and salt and vinegar chips, all washed down with a refreshing glass of Squirt soda.

Now that you know how food can make your loved one feel more connected, don’t be shy. Tell us what they love to eat and don’t be afraid to bring in family recipes.

Learn more about how we provide specialized care in our series “Insights from Arthur’s” featuring educational videos from Arthur’s Director of Development and Senior Care Consultant Deb Nygaard.