When I brought mum back home, I was keen to get her onto a healthy diet. In my efforts to prepare the perfect dish, I tried to keep mum out of the kitchen and out of my way, until I realised this was becoming a problem…
Diet is important
Mum was happy with the food at her former care home and showed her appreciation with regular and emphatic ‘thank yous’. After decades of preparing food for others, she has always been enormously grateful when someone else does the cooking.
Although mum was a satisfied customer, I was concerned at her frequent unhealthy choices. It is absolutely mum’s right to choose what she eats; whether it is healthy or not. But acutely aware of mum’s recurring constipation I inwardly groaned when I saw what she’d ordered. I sometimes intervened, believing she opted for the less healthy option simply because it was the last item offered, and she was unable to remember the first one.
The Clever Guts diet
When mum came back home, I got her onto a healthy diet straightaway. I am a convert to the Clever Guts diet developed by Dr Michael Mosely. It’s supposed to improve your immune system and gut related conditions, as well as making you “regular”. Having had sepsis twice in two years, I was keen to have a more balanced immune system.
Mum clearly loves the new diet which includes a wide range of fresh fruit with home baked granola or bircher muesli, and yoghurt or kefir, for breakfast. Lunch involves lots of vegetables, more fermented foods, spices and unusual ingredients like seaweed. She is now even more appreciative of her food, asking and enthusing about individual items on her plate. We eat our main meal in the middle of the day, which is the best time according to Clever Guts. We still have deserts and cakes, which rarely conform to the diet, but make life more fun!
Food preparation took time away from mum
I really enjoy preparing our meals and take great pride in presenting them well. With her lavish appreciation, mum is a joy to cook for. As mum needs a lot of support to carry out most food preparation tasks, I tried to keep the cooking to myself and mum out of the kitchen. I got her hanging clothes (which works when the weather is fine and warm) and I created useless tasks like sorting out the buttons, to keep her busy in the living room. She is generally happy to watch David Attenborough’s “Life of Birds” in the early evening, so I can take time out to prepare the supper.
Keeping mum occupied
Eventually, I could see that excluding mum from cooking was becoming a problem. Conscious I was preparing food, she felt she should be helping. Sometimes she comes to the kitchen every few minutes, asking with increasing agitation if there is anything she can do.
One time, I left her sorting buttons while I prepared lunch. Instead of looking for red buttons as usual, I asked her to put red buttons in one jar, and black in another; so, it was 100% more difficult than the previous sorting job she had managed successfully. Left on her own she became anxious that she wasn’t doing the task correctly. This undermined her confidence so much so, by the time lunch was served she was unsure how to use her cutlery and kept asking, ‘Is this OK?’ This is one of the very few times mum did not enjoy her lunch. As I discovered, it’s so important to identify meaningful and appropriate tasks, and provide the necessary support and supervision. I recommend this really helpful video about different types of Meaningful Activities, from dementia care expert, Teepa Snow.
Embracing the ‘So what?’ attitude
Now I am trying to embrace mum’s help in the kitchen. Inspired by a tip in Teepa Snow’s ‘Guide for Dementia Caregivers’, I’m attempting to employ the attitude, “So what?” (see full quote below) …. So what: if we lose half the mushrooms whilst preparing them; if we get crumbs on the floor; if soil and black spots are left on the vegetables; and, the carrots are peeled within an inch of their life? I can’t pretend it is always easy, but with a little more planning and thought mum can undertake simple tasks that really do contribute to creating lunch. This is meaningful to her and provides a great activity (I am always looking for things to positively engage her). It gives mum a sense of control, of being involved and having a role.
Making food count more
Although mum loves to be cooked for, she absolutely needs to feel useful. Food is such an important part of our life, our health and our enjoyment, I got overly focused on the end-product. Now I am making our food count even more. The food preparation is gradually becoming an activity we do together. It keeps mum engaged in the present moment, and at the same time enhances her self-esteem. With all those benefits, it’s helpful that we have to eat so often!
Teepa Snow’s ‘Dementia Caregiver’s Guide‘. Here is the full tip from the section ‘Helpful Tips for Emeralds’ (Emeralds represents a stage of dementia). The tips are written as if from the person living with dementia.
“Learn the importance of “So what?” – before deciding to do something about an error, a difference or something that is not how I have always been – stop and decide… Is it worth it? Do you really need to do something about this – right now? Will it matter in five minutes, five days, five months, or five years?”