The benefits of cooking with people living with dementia

Enomwoyi lives with her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. Here, she describes cooking with Mom, keeping the experience positive and adapting her methods as the disease progresses.

In the early days of Mom’s Alzheimer’s, I could put all the salad ingredients on the table and say 'there you are Mom' and she would know exactly what to do. Four years later this is no longer possible.

I can’t even put one ingredient on the table and say 'there you are Mom.' Now when we're cooking, I have to tell her many times, precisely what to do with it. 'Slice the cucumber Mom' won’t do anymore because she’ll ask 'skin on or off?', or, 'which way, across or longways?' My instructions must be absolutely clear, with no room for interpretation.

The easiest solution would be to do the salad myself. But Mom loves to help with the cooking. And I believe it’s good for her to be involved, doing something she can manage and enjoy.

Mom cooking illustration by Michael Powell

Illustration of Mom preparing a salad by Michael Powell

Being patient and adapting to changes in Mom’s behaviour

It’s been a real learning curve as Mom’s Alzheimer’s has progressed. Finding new and different ways to enable her to function as positively as possible. And, finding new and different ways to enable myself to cope with the changes.

I know that if Mom is going to make the salad with as little stress as possible (for her and for me), I must give her one ingredient at a time and I must demonstrate. Show her how to slice the cucumber.

And then do the same with all the other ingredients, one at a time. And, I must leave plenty of time because Mom’s salads are a work of art, as she positions each ingredient geometrically and meticulously like a delicate mosaic.

Cooking an old family favourite together

It’s not just the salad. Once, I put all the ingredients for banana fritters on the table for Mom to mix together in a bowl. Very simple really. Everything in the bowl and mixed into a batter ready to be fried into delicious, sweet, banana flavoured fritters. With the essential freshly grated nutmeg for flavour of course. Something that Mom did without even thinking back in the day. But of course, this isn’t ‘back in the day’.

Enomwoyi and Mom

Me and Mom eating in a cafe (left) and four generations of our family, me, Mom, my daughter and my grand-daughter (right).

I put the bowl and wooden spoon on the table, with all the necessary ingredients and said 'there you are Mom', as usual. Self-raising flour, baking powder, brown sugar, bananas, nutmeg and coconut milk. And I left her to it as I got on with cutting the vegetables for some soup.

On this occasion she seemed to manage with few questions. It was quite reasonable for her to ask about the grater for the nutmeg because I’d forgotten to put it on the table. The repeated question of 'what next?' is ok given her condition and answering her didn’t distract me too much from my vegetable chopping.

And so the batter was ready for shallow frying. Mom even asked for the plate and the kitchen paper to drain any excess oil from the frying. The batter mix looked a good consistency, even if a little … well, bubbly.

'That’s great Mom. I can’t wait to taste them!' I exclaimed excitedly.

Mom spooned the batter into the frying pan, with great care. She stood there, moving the fritters around to avoid any sticking. Turning them over slightly to check the degree of golden brownness underneath. Then fully flipping them over to brown the second side.

All good so far. And she looked so pleased with herself. 

Keeping the experience of cooking positive for a person with dementia

The fritters were ready, a little flatter than usual but golden brown and each one uniform in size. Arranged beautifully on the plate and sprinkled with vanilla flavoured sugar. We couldn’t wait to tuck in.

But I had to resist the temptation to spit the first mouthful out. Not the usual delectable fritter that I’m expecting. But a tangy, sour, horror of a fritter. What on earth!?!

I check the ingredients left on the table and discover, that Mom, unwittingly of course, has poured almost the entire contents of the baking powder into the batter!

I wonder whether she has noticed. She doesn’t seem to and I decide not to ruin her otherwise positive cooking experience and seeming delight at making these unique fritters. I remove the plate with the remaining fritters on the pretext that we need to leave space for our soup. In any case, with the fritters out of sight, she will have no recollection of having made them in a few minutes.

All part of my learning curve I realise. Unless I’m able to stand with Mom from start to finish, carefully monitoring what she is doing, and, measuring out the ingredients, I better be prepared for all sorts of interesting variations of our favourite family feasts!

Note to self: Mom can help but needs me to break things down and .. to monitor.

Daily living advice

There are ways to make life easier and more enjoyable for a person with dementia. Read our practical advice for those living with dementia and carers

Read advice


What a lovely story of love, patience and strength in the face of what I can only imagine are the most difficult of circumstances.
May God bless you and your family Enomwoyi, with a strong, abiding deep wellspring of love that will flow down through a thousand generations of your family.

This is so precious. It takes so much love and patience to continue this kind of caregiving. But carry on for as long as you possibly could. Cuz the sad truth is eventually, even a hundred times more of the love and patience will not be able to reverse this horrible illness. However, i always feel that they know, deep down inside, within their own world, that someone is loving them by just being there.

How lovely. Patience with her mom and Enomwoyi's resilience in face of her mon's slow and progressive decline is admirable. For me it was very hard to see my mom's decline. For my dad it was unbearable. Thank you.

Lovely to read this enomwoyi. It struck lots of chords x