Creative pursuits: Baking and cooking
Baking and cooking are both incredibly useful skills that can help you to live a healthier lifestyle, by ensuring that the food you eat is natural and nutritious. Being able to make your own food can also help you to save money.
Aside from that, spending time in the kitchen can be a very relaxing activity, and it is therapeutic too. Smell can trigger memories from a youth spent baking with relatives, for example, and it can be helpful to people with dementia and other memory-loss illnesses.
Cooking and baking has traditionally been seen as something that women are more interested in, but there has been a rise in cookery classes for older men so that they don’t have to be reliant upon meals on wheels services and the such like. One example is Kitchen Kings by Age UK Hillingdon, which offers a 10-week beginner’s course for men aged over 65.
One of the key benefits of cooking and baking is that you know what is going into your food. This makes you more likely to make healthy food choices, as you can select the right ingredients for each dish. A good diet can help you to reduce or delay the onset of some age-related illnesses, as well as help maintain your weight at a healthy level.
The actual act of cooking and baking is often used as therapy, because it is relaxing and helps to trigger comforting memories. Following a recipe and working out timings for a dish helps your mind to stay active, as does trying new things and learning new skills.
Baking has been shown to help with mental health as well, with the skill being used to help people suffering with depression.
Interview with… Brendan Lynch
Brendan is best known as a finalist in Series 3 of The Great British Bake Off in 2012. He is a passionate baker, and shares his skills by teaching others. He works with older people in retirement homes and understands the therapeutic benefits of baking in later life. We spoke to him to find out more.
You’re the Boss: Can you tell us a bit about the therapeutic effects of baking?
Brendan Lynch: There are quite a few! In no particular order: it calms you down if you are frustrated, worried or anxious about something; it clears the mind for a time from what is bothering you – just like gardening does; it requires you to concentrate on the weighing of materials and can silence the inner chatterbox for a time; taking your bake to work is a good team-sharing activity, as it is to share with family members and neighbours; and it is currently rebuilding family togetherness as it is a very satisfying, shared activity. It is a therapeutic act in its own right!
You’re the Boss: What are the benefits for older people of baking at home?
Brendan Lynch: It works on a number of levels. Baking taps into our creative centre, which makes it very satisfying. Creating a recipe out of everyday ingredients gives a great sense of personal satisfaction. And the smells associated with baking trigger nostalgic feelings of times past – baking is associated with happy times and celebrations throughout various seasons of the year.
You’re the Boss: Can you tell us a bit about your work with older people in retirement homes?
Brendan Lynch: The vast majority of residents in retirement homes, or homes that offer independent living, have a good deal of time on their hands. This is a perfect opportunity to reactivate dormant, baking skills that were part of home life while bringing up children. While there wouldn’t have been time to create shop window finishes and flourishes, now is the time to add on those skills. Or some people stop when they become partnerless. Baking develops a sense of community and encourages groups getting together to discuss ideas. It also develops and maintains friendships. In brief, it is a wonderful antidote to loneliness and feelings of isolation.
You’re the Boss: How can baking, and similar activities, help people who are suffering with dementia?
Brendan Lynch: For this I use Reminiscence Therapy/Work, which accesses those decades where the brain is still sound. Dementia works backwards starting in the present, so you go ahead of it to identify where memories are still sound, eg the 90s, 80s, 70s, 60s, 50s and so forth. You then discuss the recipes that were popular in that time period for the individual; recipes that they made, or their mum made. I then make those recipes and engage the individual with the process ensuring that the spices and other flavourings are part of the baking process. Smells and memories are particularly powerful and the olfactory sense goes directly to the brain. The individual can articulate clearly those memories, and with regular visits to that decade, the memories grow stronger and stronger from being activated. The sense of well-being it creates lasts for a good week or two. It cannot stop the progressive disease, but the individual’s happiness quota increases, as does their confidence.
Check out Brendan’s recipes on his website at http://brendanbakes.co.uk/.
This guide from the NHS looks at everything you need to know about a healthy diet in later life. It goes through all of the key food groups that you need to cover, as well as some practical advice on things to watch out for, such as a lack of appetite. There are also recipes and a meal planner.