While the coronavirus has caused many of us to stay home, several people have taken up baking to relieve stress, find enjoyment, and bring sweetness to the table. If you’ve been one of the many people grabbing sugar and flour off of the grocery store shelves, you might not have realized that this interest in baking also supports brain health.
Baking for brain health is a great activity to share with family members of all ages, especially seniors. When it comes to seniors’ overall health, they need to nurture their mental health as much as their physical health. While there are many foods that support our brains through nutrition, there are certain aspects of food that feed our brains by feeding our souls. Baking stimulates our brains on several levels.
Components of brain health
Baking can work to stimulate the four components of brain health as defined by the National Institute on Aging:
- Cognitive health: The ability to clearly think, learn, and remember
- Motor function: How well we make and control movements
- Emotional function: How well we interpret and respond to emotions
- Sensory function: How well we feel and respond to sensations
Let’s dig into how baking supports brain function, specifically for seniors.
Cognitive benefits from baking
The beauty of baking is that cognitive skills can be practiced in a creative, light-hearted environment, so the focus is on fun rather than exercising the mind.
The tasks of baking involve clear thinking and following the instructions of a recipe, which can range from fairly simple steps to creating more challenging, complex dishes.
By measuring ingredients, and keeping track of when and how to use them, seniors can exercise their minds with a meaningful activity that leads to a delicious finished product.
Baking can even become a confidence booster as it involves learning new skills through understanding how various ingredients come together to form certain components of a recipe.
While baking, seniors might recall memories of their past, whether they baked often themselves or remember moments baking with a loved one on special occasions. Baking also tests short-term memory as seniors remember steps, such as what ingredients to mix and for how long.
Baking is hands-on, so seniors can get their hands dirty measuring wet and dry ingredients, cracking eggs and separating yolks, and pouring and mixing ingredients. Beyond the actual baking steps, finishing touches add a layer of fine motor skill practice along with creativity, by decorating baked goods with sprinkles, frosting, nuts, or other accents.
Again, the focus doesn’t have to be on exercising motor skills, but practicing how we make and control movements is a natural benefit of putting together a recipe.
Emotional benefits from baking
Baking provides emotional benefits on an internal, personal level, as well as an external and social level.
It can become almost meditative, as it requires focus and mindfulness on simple steps in a recipe that can help seniors clear their minds. These actions can reduce stress and anxiety, even leading to reduced depression.
Beyond the personal benefits of baking, it also provides many social perks. Baking with others involves teamwork, bonding, and shared memories that allow seniors to exercise interpreting and responding to emotions. Through sharing the delicious finished product with others, seniors can show pride in what they created and share positive experiences with their friends and family.
Stimulate the senses
Baking stimulates every one of our basic senses – smell, taste, touch, sight, and hearing. Yes, even hearing, as you can learn to tell when certain recipes are done by hearing the air that leaves the dough, for example.
Of course baking appeals most to our sense of smell and taste. There is nothing like the familiar smell of chocolate chip cookies in the air and the reaction it incites of anticipating the taste of a warm cookie fresh from the oven. This preparation and anticipation can even help our digestive systems and increase appetite.
Baking with ingredients that nourish brain health
Baking for brain health is about the experience, not just the delicious treats. If nutrition and dietary restrictions are a concern, this doesn’t have to stop you from baking with your ageing loved one. There are many ingredients that can serve as healthy alternatives:
- Add fruits and vegetables to baked goods, such as berries, apples, bananas, pumpkin, or squash. All of these add health benefits and can provide moisture and sweetness to a recipe, serving as an alternative to butter or oils and allowing for less added sugar.
- Nut butters can also be used as a substitute for oil and butter, as they come with the added benefits of healthy fats and protein.
- If you want to use less processed ingredients, use whole-grain flour rather than white flour. If you need gluten-free recipes, use chickpea flour, almond flour, or coconut flour, for example.
- There are alternatives to using milk as well, with dairy-free options such as oat milk, almond milk, or coconut milk.
- Add dark chocolate, which has less sugar than milk chocolate and provides antioxidants and minerals. Or add nuts, which provide protein and healthy fats.
Life enrichment at The Kensington White Plains
At The Kensington White Plains we’re always searching for new ways to stimulate the mind, strengthen the body, and nourish the spirit.
Focused on life enrichment, we offer an ever-changing calendar of events to residents every day of the week, from morning to evening, drawing from a wide range of resident interests in an effort to appeal to all, from baking, to music, to golf.
We take the same care with our dining services where we encourage families to share meals with their loved ones often. Taste, nutrition, and experience are the priority, with meals that include high-quality ingredients that are as appealing to the eye as they are to the stomach.
Contact us today to learn more about how our life enrichment and dining services help to support seniors’ overall health at The Kensington White Plains.
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