Have you heard of “Therapeutic Cooking”? It’s an approach to cooking activity that was initially introduced in seniors’ facilities in Japan for dementia care and prevention. Imagine a senior who is not actively engaged in any activities and stays in her chair most of the time. But when chopping boards and ingredients come out during “cooking time,” she springs up and skillfully rolls sushi. This is something that actually happened when Therapeutic Cooking was introduced in the Iki Iki Program here in the Japanese Canadian community. The Nikkei Seniors Health Care and Housing Society invited Dr. Chiho Myojin, one of the researchers of Therapeutic Cooking in Japan from Kindai University, to hold lectures and workshop series to share this approach that anticipates physical and mental improvements in persons with declining cognitive function.
Dr. Myojin was at UBC as a visiting scholar in 2017-2018 and was actively engaged in the local community during her stay in Vancouver. We have been fortunate to have her agree to give lectures and workshops both in Japanese and English for the Nikkei community. Here’s an interview with Dr. Myojin who shared with us the impacts of Therapeutic Cooking on the wellbeing of participants.
For Japanese homemakers who meticulously prepare healthy dishes and bento boxes day in and day out, cooking is not just a skill but also an expression of love. As people age, those who have been cooking for decades may stop or the loved ones around them discourage the person from cooking for safety’s sake. At a seniors’ facility where we introduced Therapeutic Cooking, I met a woman who was very passive who seemed to have lost her self-confidence. She regained her confidence through cooking activities doing tasks that were familiar to her and she eventually became actively engaged in her life. For someone who devoted herself to preparing meals for the family, cooking is a source of pride. And offering food to others and receiving comments like “It was delicious. I look forward to having it again,” also helps boost the person’s confidence.
Once I met a painter at a facility. After she was affected by dementia, she was no longer interested in taking part in art activities and didn’t even want to hold the paint brush. But one day when she sat in front of a cucumber, a chopping board and a knife, she picked up the cucumber and started chopping it! There must be something in cooking that inspire people to do something. And it’s important to know that even if people haven’t cooked in years, the hands still remember movements like peeling, cutting and mixing and most people with dementia are capable of participating in cooking activities.
Let me share a story from the Iki Iki Program here in Vancouver. There was a participant who has difficulty walking and volunteers usually supported her when getting around during activities. On the day we brought Therapeutic Cooking to the program, this participant suddenly stood up to everyone’s amazement when we started cooking at the table and began slicing vegetables. Time and time again in Japan, I saw firsthand people in wheelchair spontaneously getting up to chop vegetables during cooking time. Cooking has the power to spark feelings like “I want to try,” and “I want to do it so it’ll taste good,” that encourage people to get up to chop vegetables and this as a result improves physical abilities. Cooking also uses the fingers and helps stimulate the brain.
This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of the Bulletin.
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