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Dementia has dramatically changed Wendy Mitchell’s relationship with cooking and eating

Sunday 16 June 2019

Wendy Mitchell, an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society (UK) and author of bestselling book “Somebody I Used to Know” (2018), was diagnosed with Early-onset Alzheimer’s dementia in 2014. She has kindly allowed us to share an article (redacted) she recently published in UK newspaper The Guardian, about how her relationship with food and cooking have changed, since developing dementia and how she has tried to adapt:

"Some days there is not much that I remember. When the fog comes down, I don’t know what day it is. I don’t know the time, or even the year. Those are the very worst days and, thankfully, they are still relatively few. But one thing I never forget is that food used to mean so much more to me than it does now.

We think of food as fuel. At its heart, that is all it is. That is all it is to me now. These days I even have to set alarms on my iPad to remind me to eat. Yet, when you no longer get pleasure from food, you realise it is so much more than that. It’s how we show love as a parent, it’s how we bond with friends, it’s an apology for saying the wrong thing, it’s a welcome to the neighbourhood.

I remember how busy my kitchen used to be: the windows hazy with steam, several hob rings bubbling away on the stove, my lemon drizzle cake rising in the oven. Even as adults, my two daughters used to come in and sniff at a cake on the cooling rack, eager for me to cut the first slice. When they were tiny, I’d cheer them up by baking an afternoon tea, setting up a little picnic outside with their mini camping chairs around a little table. As a single mother, run ragged between home and work, I cherished moments like those.

Even when I was diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer’s in 2014, aged 58, I used food in a way to sweeten the bitter moments that followed. There was grieving, but it also opened up many conversations we never thought we would have. One of those conversations was when it came to writing my lasting power of attorney. I knew it would be a difficult afternoon for us, sat around my small kitchen table, and so I baked an afternoon tea just like I had when the girls were little. It was a welcome relief from an afternoon discussing difficult topics, such as whether or not I wanted to be resuscitated in the event that my heart failed.

There came a time, though, when it was impossible for me to bake any more. A few months after the diagnosis, when I was still adamant I would feel relevant despite this disease inside my brain and my bosses in the NHS retiring me due to ill health, I started baking for a homeless shelter. But then I got confused. I added too much salt, double the flour, forgetting whether or not I’d added sugar. My cakes stopped rising, most ended up in the bin. Admitting defeat and giving up my beloved baking was another loss. But what kept me going in those early days – and it turns out since – was focusing on what I could still do."

The full article, can be viewed, here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jun/16/how-dementia-robbed-me-of-my-love-of-cooking-wendy-mitchell-alzheimers

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