The kitchen is arguably the most dangerous room in the home for anyone. Bathrooms can have slippery floors that cause falls, but kitchens include sharp knives, heavy pots, breakable dishes, high heat and running water. To use so many types of tools requires attention skills, memory skills and rational thinking skills (i.e. recognizing cause and effect, sequencing, perceiving risk), yet when we experience dementia, these are the skills it takes away. However, there is no need to take over the kitchen entirely. You and your loved one who is experiencing dementia can still enjoy working in the kitchen together. What you need to know is which skills your loved one is losing.
PLWD are losing attention skills: care partners need to keep this in mind.
We lose three of our five attention skills to dementia: our ability to direct, redirect and maintain our attention. This means that we become more easily distracted. When that occurs along with memory loss, we are likely to leave water running, or forget that we’ve put a pot on the stove, and then leave a tap or burner on and leave the kitchen to do something else. This creates risk, of course, so we need our companions and care partners to understand that they need to be aware that distractions and our diminishing ability to focus on the task at hand are in play.
Tips for working together in the kitchen
Be a partner, not an instructor.
If you are the care partner, be careful that in the kitchen you see your role as that of partner, not instructor. When someone feels that they are being ordered around, or deemed incapable, conflict becomes more likely, and that increases risk.
Don’t try to explain “why.”
We also lose rational thinking tools to dementia. When we lose the ability to sequence, we become unable to follow more than one suggestion at a time. Be careful to explain just the next step in the task so your companion doesn’t become embarrassed or frustrated. Perceiving cause and effect is another rational thinking tool. When I lose that skill, I won’t be able to understand that an unattended pot might burn dry and that might result in a fire. Don’t try to explain that to me, though. Presenting someone with an explanation when they’ve lost rational thinking skills is like pointing something out to a person who’s lost their vision. You are asking them to do the very thing they can no longer do. You’ll both end up frustrated.
Narrate and explore together.
Instead of explaining why, describe what you’re doing. Discover risk and fun together, as partners, as you prepare a meal. Be teammates exploring tastes and smells. Your loved one will gain valuable sensory stimulation, which will help them avoid experiencing sundowning later in the day and sleep better at night. And sampling foods while creating a meal is a great way to encourage someone to eat when they’ve lost the desire to eat or no longer recognize what hunger pains mean.
These suggestions are part of a longer article at Porch.com. Thank you, Porch, for including Judy’s tips on how to make a kitchen safer for PLWD. Check out their article for more suggestions on adapting your home for an accessible kitchen.