Seniors lose interest in cooking as they age for several different reasons. For some older adults, cooking and shopping for just one or two people can be difficult and time-consuming. For others, medication side effects, changing taste buds, dental problems, and decreased appetites can make cooking feel like a chore. However, proper nutrition and hydration are essential parts of healthy aging. In addition to promoting physical health, there are several emotional, cognitive, and social benefits of cooking at home for older adults.
Benefits of Cooking for Seniors
It’s not uncommon for older adults to consume fewer meals and smaller portions as they age. However, cooking with friends and sharing a meal can increase their appetite and present opportunities for social connection. Both cooking and baking can also help stimulate the brain and exercise cognitive skills that can keep the mind sharp. Here are a few ways older adults can benefit from time in the kitchen:
- Stimulates the senses. When we cook, we experience a variety of sounds, textures, smells, and tastes, all of which bring focus and intention to the task at hand and help. Engaging all of our senses in a single activity can also promote brain health and cognition.
- Improves appetite. Maintaining proper nutrition can help decrease feelings of depression and anxiety in addition to promoting proper physiological functions. When we cook food together or even when we prepare a meal for others, it can improve our appetites, which is especially important for older adults.
- Encourages socialization. Meals are designed to be social activities. From meal preparation to consuming a meal together, there’s an opportunity for social engagement during each step of the process. Seniors may often find mealtimes lonely, especially if they have lost family members or spouses. You might consider preparing your favorite meal to share with your family and friends or inviting your loved ones to help you cook in the kitchen.
Can Cooking Help Improve Your Mental Health?
Our mental health can impact our physical health, so finding ways to support emotional growth and reduce stress is increasingly important as we age. That’s why many older adults look to exercise, talk therapy, and a healthy diet. However, you might be surprised to learn that cooking and baking can help improve our mental health as well. How does cooking help your mental health?
- Creates feelings of accomplishment. Achieving a goal or result automatically establishes a sense of pride and accomplishment. This goal-oriented behavior can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety and help us focus on positive outcomes, like creating a delicious meal to share with others.
- Unleashes creativity. Expressing our inner creativity is empowering and helps keep the mind sharp. Cooking at home allows you to explore new ingredients and flavors, even when following a recipe.
- Encourages patience. Cooking and baking take a lot of patience, which can remind us to live in the moment and engage our senses. Cooking at home often requires patience throughout the process, from chopping vegetables to waiting until the food is cool enough to eat.
- Builds confidence. Cooking at home can help build confidence, especially if you’re cooking for the first time or picking it up after a long hiatus. Teaching yourself knife skills and relearning which flavors work together can help establish a sense of pride.
- Reduces stress. One of the ways cooking helps with mental health is by combating long-term stress and the severe impact it can have on your health. Cooking or baking at home is a great way to de-stress. Repetitive motions such as chopping and stirring can even help reduce levels of anxiety and promote a sense of calm.
Cooking as Therapy for Dementia
While cooking is a helpful activity for everyone, it is especially beneficial for older adults living with dementia. Those with dementia may become more disengaged or uninterested in social activities as the disease progresses. However, cooking can be a great way to soothe dementia-related anxieties and frustrations.
- Triggers memories. The act of cooking, just like listening to music, can release happy memories of sharing meals with loved ones. Even just smelling something baking is enough to trigger these memories.
- Encourages conversation. Food is a great way to get your loved one with dementia to socialize with others. There are so many ways to start a conversation around food. The next time you cook with your loved one, you may consider using one of these conversation starters: How do you prefer to drink your coffee? Do you like chocolate in your desserts? What foods did you like as a child?
- Promotes involvement. If your loved one with dementia is uninterested in eating or participating in mealtimes, encouraging them to partake in meal preparation is a great way to get them involved. Some of the cooking activities for seniors with dementia you might consider asking are setting the plates on the table, mixing ingredients or helping wash the dishes after the meal.
Cooking at Maplewood Senior Living
At Maplewood Senior Living, food plays a large role in the community experience. Our communities offer a variety of different nutrient-dense meal options that promote overall health and wellness. In addition, our community chefs offer cooking demonstrations that allow our residents to experiment with new ingredients and unleash their inner creativity! To learn more about these offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.