Food for Thought

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Why we’re dining through the decades at Care UK

Food plays an important part in all of our lives, and there’s something special about the way the senses have the ability to evoke happy memories and emotions – which is why it forms the perfect basis for a reminiscence activity.

This year, teams in Care UK homes across the country are stepping back in time to dine through the decades and celebrate resident’s favourite foods from the past. Whether it’s the 60s, 70s or even the 80s, our fantastic lifestyle and catering teams have been busy running all sorts of food-themed events designed to bring joy and prompt memories.

We’re proud to be forward-thinking in our commitment to activity-based care, which is why we’ve teamed up with food historian and BBC Back in Time for… presenter, Dr Polly Russell, as part of our nationwide ‘Food for Thought’ initiative.

Dr Polly - Food for Thought introduction
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Working alongside our fantastic Care UK chefs, Dr Polly has helped to create a nostalgic tasting menu, which features iconic foods from the last 70 years, and is designed to be used as a sensory tool to encourage reminiscence in older people.

The menu has been cooked by our award-winning catering team, and served as part of an interactive virtual session, led by Dr Polly, which takes residents through the history and associated memories of each dish as try each one.

Got your taste buds tingling? Discover the menu here.

With our in-depth knowledge of nutrition for older people, each dish has been formulated to maximise flavour, increase calories if needed, and can include texture modifications for those who have dysphagia.

If you’re looking for more information on nutrition for older people, take a look at our guide to ‘Eating as we age’.

Dr Polly has also recorded a short video, on the history of the afternoon tea for residents across the country to enjoy at their leisure, as they try each sweet treat for themselves. The video can be used by Care UK homes as a reminiscence resource, and is designed to be played while residents enjoy their own afternoon tea prepared by each home’s talented chefs.

Other home teams have found different ways of celebrating food memories – from dressing up in clothes from the swinging sixties and enjoying a themed buffet, to hosting a 70s bake-off competition, complete with pineapple upside down cake and bread and butter pudding.

Abney Court, in Cheadle, chose to re-visit the roaring twenties, hosting a Great Gatsby dinner party with a prosecco reception and canape starters. Lonsdale Mews, in Quorn, created a Dr Who inspired time travellers buffet, while Mill View, in East Grinstead, made their very own vintage sweet cart, filled with traditional confectionary.

Why take part in reminiscence activities?

Reminiscence activities can be extremely beneficial for older people, particularly those living with dementia, as long-term memory typically remains stronger than the short-term. Drawing on strong memories helps to boost confidence and provides an opportunity to re-live happy times, which can prompt conversation and evoke the associated emotions.

The significance of the senses

Our sense of smell, in particular, plays a huge role in reminiscence, as it communicates directly with the limbic system – the part of the brain that deals with memory and emotion.

When we talk about ‘flavour’, we are discussing the combination of two senses: taste and smell. This is why food can be such a powerful tool for triggering memories and positive feelings.

Reminiscence activities you can do at home

If you’re caring for a loved one living with dementia, or simply fancy a trip down memory lane, here are some easy reminiscence activities you can do at home:

  • If you’re keen to incorporate taste and smell, why not cook a familiar meal together, which may prompt fond and comforting memories from the past
  • You could even play their favourite music from the era of the dish you’re cooking
  • Listen to relaxing sounds that may trigger happy memories, such as the sound of the seaside, or birdsong
  • Create a memory box with old photographs and items linked to happy memories
  • Have a look online for old photos, adverts or packaging for food-related brands. A good place to start is to visit the Heritage Advertising Trust’s website, and filter your search for food. This brings up lots of the television and print adverts for long forgotten products which are sure to generate a lively discussion.

The important thing is that the goal of reminiscence isn’t to remember, but to enjoy time together and provide an opportunity to discuss happy memories that may come up while doing so.

What residents got up to

You can read more about some of the reminiscence activities our residents have been enjoying, from working with local restaurants in Bristol, to sharing baking memories and reminiscing about cooking for royalty.

Bake it better

We asked residents to share their favourite baking memories...

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Fit for royalty

Meet the residents who used to cook for the royal family.

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Happy memories cooked up in Southmead

Residents at Trymview Hall, in Southmead, teamed up with award-winning Bristol restaurant to rediscover residents’ favourite foods throughout the decades.

Read more