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

oatmeal

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.