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A Recipe for Your Relationship: Tapping Into Old Memories Through Food

Food influences people in extraordinary ways. It is often the connector between strong memories and meaningful experiences. Creating food and sharing it with loved ones is a familiar ritual that many individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia find comfort in. Food can help you nurture your relationship with a loved one in the present or assist them in remembering a past experience.

Constructing Sensory Experiences

Smell is the sense most strongly associated with memory, bridging experiences in your long-term memory. Though smell is the strongest memory-inducing sense, you and your loved ones are engaging all of your senses throughout the process of preparing, cooking, and sharing a meal.

If your loved one with memory loss enjoyed cooking or spending time in the kitchen in the past, encourage them to join you in prepping for a meal to construct a full sensory experience. Let them feel the ingredients by washing the vegetables, smell the scent of freshly chopped herbs, or hear the sound of the frying pan sizzling. This immersive involvement may help them recall memories of similar situations they had long forgotten. Something they smell or taste may spark a memory or remind them of a loved one they used to cook with.

Connecting with Loved Ones

Food is a common thread for many gatherings and celebrations, especially around holidays. These large events occupy a prominent place in our long-term memory. Many times, food is not the memory being remembered, but instead the trigger for the past experience that surrounded a meal.

Sitting down to eat together is a great way to enjoy each other’s company. Even if it’s just the two of you, familiar habits such as setting the table with flatware or tasting a particular dish could present the opportunity to connect more deeply. If conversation does not flow easily, consuming a meal you made together in comfortable silence is also a healthy way to show up and be present with one another.

Creating New Memories

Though food has the potential to spark long forgotten memories, it can also present the opportunity to create new memories together. New family members, such as spouses or children, may find it difficult to personally connect with the loved one experiencing memory issues. Baking or cooking together could support relationship building and help your loved one link new family members with certain aromas or routines. 

Remember, even if you can’t cook together, bringing a favorite treat or family recipe to share during visits can have a big impact. Though the treat may not trigger a memory or response, at the end of the day, bringing a little joy to their lives is your ultimate goal.

Willow River is Here to Help

At Willow River, we understand the challenges that Alzheimer’s and dementia can bring. If you have questions or need help, Willow River has the answers and resources you need. Call Willow River Senior Living at 888-546-1886 to start the conversation today.