Food Dude: Baking on the rise as therapy for Alzheimer’s patients

The Oklahoman
By Dave Cathey

The countdown to Thanksgiving is coming to a fast end, so today we focus on some final details to help illuminate your family feast.

You’ll find recipes for dressing; gravy; breads; wine recommendations; a festive, seasonal punch for this time of year; and a healthy option for your leftovers.

Once the feast is prepared, it’ll be time to exhale, reflect and do as the holiday suggests and give thanks for all you have and those you love and reflect on how each made it to your respective feasts. Reminiscing inevitably brings laughter, and maybe even a few tears will ensue. Memories make so much of who we are and what motivates us.

Life’s triumphs are impossible without tragic challenges. Among the most serious is Alzheimer’s disease, and November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month. The Oklahoma chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association offers support at no cost to the 74,000 who struggle with the disease.

The Oklahoma chapter has a goal to raise $1 for every Oklahoman with Alzheimer’s through the “74,000 Reasons to Give” campaign. The E.L. and Thelma Gaylord Foundation and the Jean I. Everest Foundation pledged a combined $74,000 as part of a matching gift campaign, so any gift is matched dollar for dollar and makes double the impact.

As part of our Thanksgiving countdown, I visited Touchmark at Coffee Creek retirement community for a lesson in bread making. Touchmark at Coffee Creek includes all levels of senior care, including a memory-care unit for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Bread making is part of the therapy for residents, and I was lucky to join six cheerful ladies for a lesson in making pumpkin bread.

Touchmark Enrichment/Wellness Director Cathy Bird said cooking is part of cognitive stimulation therapy, which is meant to exercise the brain.

“We assign different tasks to each person,” Bird said. “It can be as little as pouring or measuring ingredients, while some help others complete tasks.”

Bird said the more an activity is part of residents’ lives, the better chance they have of drawing a memory. Thus, cooking is ideal as it is a part of everyday life for most.

Dr. Robert Winningham, of Western Oregon University, wrote in the Journal of Mental Health and Aging, “If older adults can maintain their cognitive ability, they will require less care and possibly delay or even eliminate the need to go to a nursing home. Cognitively stimulating activities may also postpone symptoms of dementia, which could also delay the need for more intensive care.”

Winningham gave these examples of cognitive stimulation:
Reading a book.
Looking at a magazine.
Working a Sudoku.
Volunteering.
Visiting with friends.
Developing a new hobby.
Taking different routes to frequent destinations.
Going dancing or taking a dance class.
Learning a foreign language.
Cooking new recipes.

Watching Emily GardnerNaomi RotherSue SmithBetty Jones and Florence Clary in action was inspiring but also bittersweet. My father died with virtually no memory thanks to Alzheimer’s disease. It’s an incredibly tough road for family but nothing compared with what it must be like for the victim. I watched as my father’s memory gradually slipped away over several years, leaving him finally with nothing.

It’s a reminder without sentiment to be thankful for your health most of all. It’s also a reminder to be thankful for those such as the folks at Touchmark who have dedicated their careers to caring for our loved ones in need. And for doctors who’ve dedicated their careers to finding ways to combat memory-loss diseases.

What is life without challenge and failure? Heaven. But heaven can wait as we’ve all got some living to do. From the most helpful to the most helpless, our experiences — positive and negative — serve to inform the future.

Be thankful you’ve got a part in this ongoing narrative, even if you’re still trying to refine your role. We’ve all been there or will be someday.

No matter where in the world you are Thanksgiving Day, whether you’re eating white meat, dark meat or dim sum at The Grand House, remember we’re all in this together.

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