Many people with dementia can help fix some of their own meals or participate in a limited way with your help. They may no longer be able to cook a full meal or even one dish, but most individuals can do something with the right prompting. Caregivers have shared five tips with us that have made meal prep a lot easier for the person they care for.
Don’t miss our section on stove safety and small appliances if the person is still cooking and read also our article about how to organize better mealtimes with a dementia patient here.
1. Make Items Easy to Find
It’s harder for any of us to find items in a cluttered environment, especially if the items are not well marked. So help the person to organize by grouping similar items together – for example, put breakfast foods together. Leave the most used items on the countertop, in see-through containers, labeled in large letters to help alert the person as to their contents. If the person will be alone, set out all ingredients before a meal and leave instructions.
A person with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia may forget to look inside the cupboards or drawers, so put up signs and pictures to help him/her locate objects behind closed doors or drawers. If this doesn’t work, remove a cupboard door.
Make sure there is good lighting on the countertops – it helps a person see better and it help directs their attention to the area.
2. Use Good Prep Tools
Many people with dementia also have arthritis, making it hard to hold standard utensils. Many also have low vision, making it difficult to distinguish items of similar colors or to read fine print. If a person enjoys preparing food, then ergonomic – but familiar-looking – tools can increase their ability to participate, giving them a sense of accomplishment, and adding structure to their day.
3. Provide Seating
A comfortable chair or stool with a padded seat and back can make meal prep more enjoyable when standing becomes difficult or tiring. Side arms will make it safer and easier for the person to get up from either a chair or a stool.
A dining chair is ideal for sitting at the table while peeling fruits or vegetables.
A perching stool is ideal for working at the sink or countertop. These special stools have padded backs and seats, adjustable seat height (up to 27 inches), and side arms. The seat is slightly angled which can make getting on and off easier.
For safety, make sure the stool does not have wheels, as the stool can easily roll out from under the person, causing a fall. Remove bottom cabinet doors if possible to provide knee space.
4. Control Noise
Noise is a common trigger for agitated behavior so it’s best to avoid using noisy appliances when your care receiver is in the kitchen. Noise also makes it harder for the person to communicate and focus on kitchen tasks.
First, make sure that the tv and radio aren’t blaring. Soft background music can help set a pleasant tone, but you’ll want to monitor the sound level – even Tony Bennett CD’s, when played loudly, can be distressing to some.
And kitchen appliances such as garbage disposals, dishwashers, range hood fans, and blenders can have very noisy motors.
Many appliances now offer quieter models, so you may want to consider replacing older, noisier models. Don’t miss our section on stove safety and small appliances if the person is still cooking.
5. Make it Safe
The kitchen is a great place for group activities and, of course, much needed nourishment. But it can also be a dangerous place due to fire, burn, and poisoning risks. Finding the right balance between safety and risk is an ongoing challenge, especially when it comes to tools and appliances in the kitchen. But with today’s new technology, there are more options to help keep the person you care for safer at home. For example, fire extinguishers are now available that automatically put out stove top fires.