There’s nothing us Brits like better than sitting down with a cuppa and a cake…except sitting down with a cuppa and a cake you’ve made yourself! Studies have shown that we love to bake, and it is a great activity to do with loved ones; cooking and baking have a lot of benefits, especially for seniors, and there are many ways in which you can help them.
The benefits of baking
There are many different ways that baking can benefit seniors physically, mentally, and emotionally, especially those suffering from dementia or other cognitive issues. Here’s a few of them:
1. Reduces stress
Stress is a relatively common problem for seniors with dementia, and baking is a good way to alleviate this. Baking requires attention, but at the same time often has simple and repetitive mechanics, making it almost meditative. Actions such as kneading bread have been shown to reduce anxiety, and the calming joy baking brings can also help alleviate feelings of depression.
2. Triggers memories
A lot of people have positive memories when it comes to baking; as a familiar family activity growing up, or possibly something they did with their own children. The smell of bread in the oven can conjure up images of happy times spent with friends and loved ones. Smell is a powerful way to trigger memories, and can help remind seniors with dementia of familiar activities they once enjoyed.
3. Stimulates senses – and appetite
Stimulating the senses is a great way of making the brain focus, which can often be hard for dementia sufferers, plus it increases the release of endorphins (the brain’s “happy” chemical). It can also help with eating problems – sometimes meals can be a struggle, as many seniors with dementia lose their appetites. Because baking connects with all of our senses, it can help trigger a reminder of enjoying food, which can then promote a desire to eat.
4. Encourages creativity
Although baking does usually involve following a recipe, there are ways to be creative; from swapping out certain flavours, to choosing colours and shapes, and decorations for cakes and biscuits. Not only is there a link between expressing ourselves creatively and our general wellbeing, but it is also specifically good for our minds – keeping our brains active and engaged can help combat the symptoms of dementia and other cognitive issues.
5. Keeps us social
Baking or cooking together is a great bonding exercise. Seniors with dementia can withdraw when they start to have difficulty communicating or remembering things, but baking can help to ground relationships in familiar activities. Studies have shown that as we get older we benefit from keeping up with social interactions; combine this with having fun creating something together, and baking is a sure-fire winner.
6. Maintains sense of independence
Often with dementia, feelings of self-worth and confidence suffer as people find themselves unable to do things at the same level as they used to. Being involved can help them feel useful and maintain a sense of independence and dignity. Although it is important that the tasks are manageable, there are many ways that they can help out when baking (see “baking together” next). The important thing is having the chance to engage with the activity.
Helping a senior, especially one with dementia, to bake a cake or biscuits is a rewarding act. Not only will they enjoy being involved, chatting and reminiscing, but you’ll have a tasty treat to enjoy together at the end of it!
Choosing a recipe
Deciding what to bake is the first step! Recipe books can be fun to look through, or perhaps your loved one has a favourite recipe from their childhood that you can recreate. You can even swap out some of the ingredients to make something a bit different. Choose something that is relatively simple, with easy instructions (or you can simplify them yourself). The important thing is to make the decision together.
If you can, prepare the ingredients and equipment you’ll need in advance as it will help the actual baking go smoothly. Keeping ingredients in labelled bowls or jars will make them easier to identify; even if you’re the one doing the measuring, they can organise which ingredient is needed next. If you need any electrical equipment, setting it up in advance will avoid fuss during baking. Also consider using bright or contrasting colours of bowls and kitchen utensils so that they stand out.
Get them involved
Baking includes a variety of tasks that seniors can help with, depending on their abilities. Jobs like kneading dough, whisking, mixing, and stirring are all soothing, repetitive actions that can help someone with dementia feel like they’re involved without the high-pressure of using knives or the stove, and can often be done sitting down. Even things like handing you ingredients or doing the washing up can make them feel a part of the activity.
Baking with someone is a great chance to chat and reminisce, whether they’re involved in the process or just watching, and getting dementia sufferers to connect is important to their wellbeing. Certain smells or recipes can evoke emotions or memories that you can talk about, such as mealtimes when they were young, their favourite cakes or treats, or even the price of sweets at the cornershop they used to visit!
Accidents happen to everyone, amateur bakers and seasoned chefs alike; the important thing is how we handle them. For someone who struggles with feelings of being incapable, things going wrong can reinforce those fears. Try turning a mistake into something else, such as unrisen bread into bread and butter pudding or, alternatively, have another short recipe to hand so that you can clean up and move on. The aim isn’t to bake the perfect cake – the aim is to spend time together!
Tips and tricks
Safety in the kitchen is just as important as enjoying yourself, no matter what your age. There’s a number of ways that you can provide a safe baking environment for your loved one.
Safety equipment: it may seem obvious, but making sure that there are working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors installed, and testing them regularly, is a good start! You might also want to have a small, simple fire extinguisher in the kitchen; going through the steps together on how to use it may prevent confusion later on.
Kitchen equipment: think about the equipment that you’ll be using. Some pots and pans can be quite heavy, so consider replacing them with lighter versions and keep the handles turned inwards when using them so that they can’t be accidentally knocked over. Be careful if using plastic utensils to keep them away from the stovetops; the same goes for other flammable items such as tea towels. Make sure that knives are stored securely away, and try to turn appliances off when they’re not in use.
Work areas: take care of the countertops that you’ll be using by cleaning them regularly and keeping them clear of any unnecessary clutter. It’s also important to make sure these, as well as areas such as the sink, are well-lit, to help prevent accidents due to dim lighting.
Clothing: you and your loved one will want to avoid clothing that is too loose, or with long flowing sleeves if using the stove, as this is a fire hazard. Make sure that they choose something that is comfortable but with short, tighter sleeves, or sleeves that can be rolled up. Also remember to tie back hair and remove jewellery before you start.
Finally, a couple of non-safety tips:
Consider the when of your baking time; some people function better in the morning, whilst for some it might be the afternoon, so try to pick your time accordingly.
Take into account your loved one’s capabilities; it can be hard to admit that something we used to do is now difficult for us, so be gentle with them.
Lastly, you might want to consider having an alternate activity as a backup; should things go wrong, it would be good to have something you can immediately distract them with.
Oh, and our very last point – no matter if it’s biscuits or cakes, make sure that you have the kettle on!
Easy shortbread biscuits recipe
With only three ingredients, and ready in roughly 35 minutes, shortbread is an easy (and delicious!) choice for baking with older people – you can get them to mix the ingredients together with their hands, and to use cookie cutters to shape the biscuits.
This recipe makes roughly 10-20 biscuits, depending on how thick you roll the dough.
150g plain flour (plus a little extra for dusting your rolling surface)
100g butter, cubed
50g caster sugar (plus extra for sprinkling on your biscuits at the end!)
1. Pre-heat the oven to 170C (150C fan/gas mark 3). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper for later.
2. Mix together the butter, flour and sugar with your hands in a large mixing bowl until it resembles breadcrumbs, then squeeze it together to make a dough.
3. Lightly flour your worktop and use a rolling pin to roll the dough out to a thickness of roughly 1cm.
4. Either cut your dough into fingers or use cookie cutters for other shapes, and lay them on your lined baking tray. Re-roll any leftover dough and keep cutting until it is all used.
5. Use a fork to make the characteristic shortbread dimples, then pop the tray of biscuits in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
6. After chilling, bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden. Remove and carefully transfer to a wire rack. Sprinkle with caster sugar, then let cool.
7. Enjoy with a lovely cup of tea!
Are you looking for a home carer to help you live independently in your own home? At SuperCarers, we can do all the hard work for you (from background checks to the actual care search) and find a compassionate carer in your area to meet your needs. Give us a call on 020 8629 1030 to find out more.
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