cooking with Alzheimer’s – chicken

every time we get a new resident, the family fills out some forms that help us get to know them better. it asks about what types of assistance they require, important people in their life, what movies or music they are fond of, what kind of things cause them stress, their eating preferences, what age they think they are, and other things like that. all the staff are supposed to read it to help us in our interactions with the new resident. the food preferences page is most useful for the kitchen staff, although sometimes people’s preferences can change from what they used to be.

sometimes I don’t have time to read those information packets right away though, so then I just go by the diet order we receive for the resident (regular, chopped, fine chopped, puree, plus any food allergies).

one day a new resident named Lisa arrived. she was wheelchair-bound and a bit flustered by her new surroundings, which often happens on a resident’s first day in a new place. her diet orders were chopped with no known food allergies. at lunch she only ate a little bit.

dinner came around, and it was chicken marsala, so I made Lisa a plate of chopped chicken, asparagus, and mashed potatoes. Lisa was still a bit on edge, so one of the nurses was sitting with her and trying to help her eat her dinner. I finished up serving all the dinner plates, and went to wash some dishes while everyone ate.

suddenly, I heard someone yelling and crying from the dining room. I went to take a look. it was Lisa! she was terribly upset and bawling at the dinner table. one of the nurses came over and told me, “Wing! you made Lisa cry! she hasn’t eaten chicken since she was a little girl, because she saw her father slaughter a chicken and never wanted to eat it again!”

I felt pretty terrible. I hadn’t had a chance to read Lisa’s information packet yet, so I had no idea that chicken could be traumatic for her! anyway, I found some non-chicken food for her to eat and eventually she calmed down. after that, there was a running joke in the kitchen about how I made residents cry!

later on we found out, she was actually okay eating chicken as long as you didn’t tell her it was chicken. just like we had another lady who insisted she didn’t eat fish, but she ate it up if you didn’t tell her it was fish.

disclaimer: names and other details have been changed in these stories.

cooking with Alzheimer’s – friendship

we had one resident named Emma who used to be a nurse, and she loved to talk all the time. when she first came, she was still speaking English, and she loved to talk and often narrated what was going on around her, like, “Okay, now I will sit down and enjoy my breakfast. Here’s my fork, I’m going to eat now.”

originally she was from somewhere in Europe though, so as her Alzheimer’s progressed, she stopped speaking English and only spoke in her native language. she still was always talking though, just we couldn’t understand what she was saying. her husband visited almost everyday, and he could understand her. often he would just hold her hand and listen to her.

one day I saw her sitting with another of our residents, Annie, a very nice lady originally from Japan. it was the first time I had seen the two of them sit together. Annie also had progressed from speaking mostly English to more of her native Japanese, but she still could understand some English.

Emma was talking a mile a minute in her native language, and Annie was sitting directly across from her, holding one of Emma’s hand between her hands, one hand on the bottom and one hand on top. And as Emma talked, Annie was nodding and looking into Emma’s eyes with understanding. Annie didn’t understand the words Emma was saying, but maybe that’s not what was important. Annie understood that Emma could use someone to listen to her, a friend who could give her some comfort and happiness. So she was there for Emma, holding her hand warmly and lovingly, giving Emma her undivided attention. It was a really tender and sweet moment, a wonderful moment of unexpected friendship between these two women.

sometimes words aren’t heard or understood, but often people with Alzheimer’s can still feel your heart or your intentions. they really live in the moment I think, because that’s their only choice as the disease progresses. sometimes you approach one of them, and they might be a bit confused about the situation or what to do, but if you give them a nice big smile, they see it, and they feel it, and they give you a nice big smile right back. and then you see their smile, and feel it, and it brightens your day too.

disclaimer: names and other details have been changed in these stories.

cooking with Alzheimer’s – maple syrup


usually twice a week the residents have oatmeal, toast, and some fresh fruits for breakfast. I often put in some cinnamon and raisins in the oatmeal and top it with a spoonful of brown sugar.

anyway, one morning I was prepping things in the kitchen when I heard a knock at the door. it was Lily, one of our residents. she got around in a wheelchair, but she was quite frail, so it must have taken quite some effort for her to wheel herself over to the kitchen.

I quickly went over to the door to see what she needed. her voice was very soft though, so I had to lean over and ask her to repeat herself. “I hate maple syrup!” she whispered.

in my mind, I was thinking, dang, she must really detest that stuff! I explained, “Oh actually that’s brown sugar.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, it just melted a bit so it looks like that.”

“Okay then. Thank you.”

A nurse came by to help her back to her seat, and she enjoyed the rest of her breakfast.

Lily was a very intelligent lady and a great cook too. her daughter visited almost every week, and often told us about the great things her mom used to cook. one time she saw me making dinner rolls, and fondly remembered how her mom made fresh bread for their family every week.

whenever I remember this story, it makes me smile. it’s funny! sometimes as our residents deteriorate, you might not be sure how much they are still aware of, but a lot of times they still have strong opinions about the foods they like and dislike. we try our best to make them happy.

disclaimer: names and other details have been changed in these stories.

cooking with alzheimer’s

I have been working as a cook at a care home for people with Alzheimer’s for almost three years. before starting this job, I didn’t know much about Alzheimer’s at all, and I don’t think I personally knew anyone with it.

Alzheimer’s is a sad disease. the brain basically is degenerating, and currently any medications for it can only hope to slow down the degeneration. in our training at work, we see photos of normal brains and then the brains of Alzheimer’s patients at varying stages of the disease. it looks like whole chunks of the brain are slowly disappearing.

first they usually lose more of their short-term memories. they become more forgetful, or don’t know where they are. they might start to think they are younger than their actual age, because I guess that’s the memories they have left. later on they will have a harder time finding the right words to say or not understand all the words you are saying to them. their field of vision becomes smaller as well, since their brains can’t process as much information anymore. as time goes on, they’ll need more assistance with using the bathroom, bathing, eating, and other tasks.

so it is sad, yes, but despite their inevitable decline, there can still be quality of life and many good moments. I tell Cameron lots of stories from work, and one time he said, “You could write a book with all these stories!” So I’m going to try to write some of the stories in my blog to share them and to help me save these memories as well.

in memory of mr. kiwi bun


mr. kiwi bun passed on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 around 8pm HST.

On the Friday before that, October 24, he had a series of small seizures. I was still at work, but Cameron’s parents were able to rush him to a vet. Cameron and I went right after work to find out how he was doing. The vet said they were going to do a number of tests, and that they recommended keeping him at the hospital overnight to keep him on seizure watch so they could give him anti-seizure medicine if needed.

The next day we went to visit him and bring him some of his favorite foods – lettuce, apples, grapes. They said he’d had some seizures at night, but he recovered quickly and was still eating normally. He seemed almost normal when we visited, just a little drugged up. He enjoyed his grape and apple pieces very much. But then he tried to scratch his ear, and he fell on his side and was shaking. It was the first time we saw him have a seizure. A few seconds later, he was back up and eating. But then he had another short seizure, so they had to take him back right away and give him some medicine.

Because he seemed to recover so quickly and go back to normal, the vet wasn’t sure at first if they were seizures. He said usually it would phase rabbits more and they wouldn’t normally go right back to eating. The test wouldn’t be back for a couple days, so we decided to keep him at the hospital for more monitoring. The seizures seemed to happen more at night, but for the first three days they didn’t really increase or decrease in frequency. We tried to visit again on Sunday, but they were so busy at the vet’s office that even after an hour we couldn’t see him. We dropped off some more veggies for him and went home.

On Monday night we went to visit him again. He was drugged up again, but still ate two pieces of lettuce during our visit. And he didn’t have any seizures this time, so I was still hoping for the best that he could recover and come home. The best case would be that he had EC (Encephalitozoon Cuniculi), a protozoal infection that could cause neurological symptoms. They already started treating him for that in hopes that if he had it, it might help him get better. Some of the tests came back normal, which was kind of good that nothing internally seemed off, but it also meant that if it wasn’t EC, it was probably some other neurological issue, which might not be treatable.

On Tuesday afternoon, I was at work and the vet called. Kiwi had taken a turn for the worse. He had more seizures and he must have had a more severe one, because he became unconscious. They weren’t sure if he would pass any moment. The vet also said she had consulted with another vet on the blood test results, and they suspected he probably had a brain tumor or some kind of brain lesion. She asked if we wanted to put him to sleep. I called Cameron because he was done with work, and we decided we should put Kiwi to sleep. Cameron spoke to the vet and they said Kiwi was having trouble breathing, should they give him oxygen? They said he might suffer more without the oxygen, so Cameron told them to give him the oxygen and that we would rush over right after work so we could try to say bye to Kiwi before they put him to sleep, if he didn’t pass before then.

I left work as soon as I could and went to pick up Cameron at home. He said the vet had just called, and amazingly, Kiwi was awake again and eating! When we got there, they took us to the back of the hospital. They turned off the oxygen so we could open the door and visit with him. He looked tired, but was still diligently eating some of his kale and pellets. I gave him a lot of pets and told him we all loved him very much. He had two more small seizures, and I helped him back up so he could eat a little more. Then the vet put him to sleep.

I miss Kiwi a lot, but I’m glad that he didn’t have to suffer too long or too much, and I’m thankful that we had a chance to say bye to him. He was in the hospital for four days. The first three days he was having about a dozen seizures a day, but recovering quickly. The last day he suffered more, but it helped us know it was his time to go, and even to the end, he was such a fighter and never gave up.

He was with us for two wonderful years, and I have so many good memories of our time together. He, Fontina, and Fubini lived in their own room. Every morning when I opened the gate, he came racing out down the hallway to wait for his breakfast by the refrigerator. Then he would happily eat his pellets and veggies. Fontina and Fubini get distracted during mealtimes or sometimes eat over the course of a couple hours, but Kiwi would single-mindedly eat up every morsel of food and enjoy every bite. Then he would usually find a nice spot in the kitchen to relax for a while, often right next to the fridge.


If he heard you open the fridge though, he would come and see if you were getting him something to eat! “Is that for me? Are you getting me a snack? I love snacks!” It was difficult not to say yes, he was so excited and happy to get a bit of lettuce or celery or maybe even a grape! Sometimes we would be cooking dinner, and he would follow us around the kitchen as we cooked. Such a friendly and happy bunny.

He especially loved eating his veggies. Everyday he happily munched a huge pile of veggies away. Pretty much he would never turn down any veggies! And then when he got special treats like apples or blackberries or strawberries, or his favorite, grapes!, he was so happy and messy as he ate them. All the juice would get on the floor and on him, but then he would try to lick it all up and get every sweet drop of it. It was very fun to watch him enjoy all his treats.


He loved being with his bunny friends too, Fontina and Fubini. They often all sat together in a bunch in bed or on the floor. Towards the end, Kiwi was having more trouble grooming himself, so I saw Fontina and Fubini helping him more, which I’m sure made him happy. He also helped them come out of their shells more. Sometimes they would follow him out to hallway and the kitchen. They started to come out of their room a lot more with Kiwi’s example. Their favorite place now is under our bed. Usually every morning when I open the gate now, they will make sure it seems safe, then hop to our room and wait for breakfast.


Kiwi loved to run up and down the hallway. He liked to sit in a sunny spot and take a nap in the kitchen. He also really liked sitting under a small table we sometimes have in the kitchen. During the holidays, his favorite spot was right under the Christmas tree. He would sit there all afternoon or night. He really liked spending time in the kitchen and living room with us. If I was home and left the gate open, he usually hung out with me there as I watched TV or cooked or played piano. Mostly just lounging around, but if you looked like you were going to the fridge, he would scramble right up and run over in anticipation.

He was a very happy rabbit, and I’m glad we all got to enjoy these past two years together. I miss him a lot, but I try to remember how he lived life with such joy and how much he enjoyed spending time with his friends and family. It’s been a good reminder for me to make sure to treasure my time with Cameron, Fontina, Fubini, my family, and my friends. Thanks for being such a wonderful friend, Kiwi. I hope you are at peace at Rainbow Bridge and happily eating lots of grapes and veggies :)