Reconnecting with cooking in aged care

Few of life’s pleasures match the gratification and connection that comes with crafting a meal for loved ones, sending mouth-watering aromas wafting through the house and sitting down to eat, drink, chat and share stories.

This is one of the activities that older adults lose when they move to aged care. But one retirement village has brought it back.

Scalibrini Village is a group of aged care facilities that specialise in dementia and palliative care in NSW. They have employed Italian-speaking staff and Italian food to not only engage residents in cooking but reconnect them to their culture – which is much more than just food.

To embed the experience, they produced the Scalabrini Village Cookbook “Cibo é vita” (cooking is life), featuring Italian recipes that are well-known and loved by the residents.

A way of life

“Most of Scalabrini’s Italian residents come from a background where food isn’t purely a source of human nourishment; it’s a way of life,” says Daz Smith, advisor at the village.

Traditional Mediterranean diets have received much attention for their health benefits. They also bring people together through cooking and eating together and promoting social interactions which are another important aspect of healthy aging.

Familiarity is something else that people miss in aged care, according to a report by the MBF, including familiar food, eating environment and people from assorted cultures.

Health and wellbeing

There is an urgent need to enhance nutrition and flavour in aged care food. Enjoying home-cooked food in a warm, convivial environment also motivates people to eat more, addressing the prevalent issue of malnutrition in older adults.

And cooking has its own unique benefits. A large review found that mental stimulation can help improve cognition and mood in people with dementia – that includes baking.

At Scalabrini, Smith witnessed this himself, saying that he saw residents’ moods pick up when they were in the kitchen. Engaging in familiar tasks can stimulate memories at a time when they are slipping away.

“In the early stages of dementia,” he explains, “people find great satisfaction in assisting with preparing foods like they may have done for years in their family home.”

“In the later stages of dementia, the taste, colour, aroma, feel and presentation of the food becomes an important part of a sensory experience.” Indeed, stimulating all the senses not only stirs memories but can also improve appetite.

While aged care is long overdue for a desperately overhaul to improve conditions across the board, the village demonstrates that cooking and eating home cooked food is a pleasurable and achievable target that ticks several boxes at once.


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