While it's not uncommon to become more forgetful as you get older, there is a fine line between a normal sign of aging and what may be an indicator of more serious cognitive decline. Dementia currently affects at least five million adults in the U.S., per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but it can be hard to diagnose as symptoms are subtle and it includes a range of diseases, which also means symptoms may vary widely from person to person. There are, however, a few general signs that crop up early on that indicate your brain lapses are cause for concern, especially when it comes to changes in everyday tasks, like cooking. Read on to find out what you should be looking out for when you make your next meal.
Not being able to follow a recipe while cooking may be a sign of dementia.
If you're someone who loves cooking, dementia can unfortunately make your life harder by limiting your ability to follow even a simple recipe. According to the Alzheimer's Association, the inability to follow a familiar recipe is one of its top warning signs of the disease; it's an example of the kind of challenges in planning and problem-solving that people with dementia face.
"Some people living with dementia may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe," the experts at the Alzheimer's Association point out. "They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before."
Spencer Kroll, MD, a board-certified internal medicine specialist, says there are several obvious signs that could indicate that someone is having newfound difficulty following a recipe. This may include "getting the steps mixed up, forgetting ingredients, mistaking measurements, using spoiled foods, miscalculating cooking patterns, or having accidents with cooking utensils or appliances," he says.
This is something those around you may notice early on in the progression of dementia.
Most forms of dementia typically progress slowly over time, so it can be hard for individuals to realize they are experiencing cognitive issues. But there are certain dementia signs that those around you may notice early on, especially when it comes to difficulty performing familiar tasks, like following a recipe.
Leann Poston, MD, a licensed physician and medical expert for Invigor Medical, says this indicator is different from other conversational or task-based signs of dementia because "if a recipe is not followed correctly, everyone will notice the outcome." "Therefore, it is more difficult to explain away," Poston says.
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People with dementia may stop eating because of their difficulty cooking.
Kroll says that people facing cognitive changes may also avoid cooking and preparing meals altogether because they are having trouble. "The preparation of even a simple meal requires remembering and organizing several things," he says. "Because following a recipe is a systematic process requiring multiple steps and multitasking, concern is raised if a person has trouble following a recipe."
The experts at Enhancing Care for Ontario Care Partners Program, part of the Ontario Dementia Strategy, say that you may notice a change in eating patterns in someone with early dementia as a result. You should watch to see if they are "avoiding cooking or eating meals that do not involve many steps," like cereal or a sandwich, they note.
Dementia can make eating unappealing in other ways, too.
On top of that, someone's interest in their favorite foods or food altogether may decline if they are suffering from dementia because it "can also damage taste and smell," Kroll says.
Specifically, people with dementia may have a strange taste in their mouth. "Many people with dementia experience metallic taste in their mouths. Because the brain is the central operating system of the human body, diseases of the brain have a massive effect on how the rest of our body functions," explain the makers of Metaqil, a mouthwash designed to reduce this issue. "Foul and unpleasant tastes can be the result of such weak signals from the brain."