man baking
Sara Hinson

Sara Hinson

Baking and Senior Brain Health: The Benefits of a Batch of Cookies

man baking

What’s better than the smell of fresh-baked bread? Or cookies? Or cake, just out of the oven to cool before frosting? Homemade goodies conjure memories of a simpler time, perhaps taking us back to a childhood visit to Grandma’s house. But did you know that baking does more than whet the appetite? Baking (and cooking, in general) has actually been shown to significantly improve brain health.

While many seniors work crossword or Sudoku puzzles to stay sharp mentally, any activity that hones certain brain functions serves the same purpose. According to the National Institute on Aging, there are four main components to brain health:
  1. Cognitive Health, the ability to think, learn, and remember. 
  2. Motor Function, the ability to make and control movement. 
  3. Emotional Function, the ability to interpret and respond to both positive and negative emotion. 
  4. Tactile Function, the ability to feel and respond to touch, including pressure, pain, and temperature.
Baking checks all the boxes, whether baking for yourself or someone else. For starters, baking (and cooking in general) helps with executive brain function—the ability to organize, prioritize, and problem solve. Researching recipes, making a grocery list, and shopping help exercise memory (Is there flour in the cupboard? Do I need salted or unsalted butter?) Baking also requires the ability to prioritize (turning on the oven first), organize (gathering the ingredients from the pantry), and problem solve (substituting margarine for butter). 
For some seniors, baking is also beneficial for its ability to trigger recall memory. There is a strong connection between food and memory, and the sights, smells, and tastes that accompany it can trigger cherished recollections of licking the spoon in a loved one’s kitchen or coming home after school to a plate of fresh-baked cookies. Memories make us who we are, and recalling the past is so beneficial that reminiscence therapy is used to help those with dementia.
Baking is also a great way for seniors to improve their motor function. Every step in the kitchen represents practice, from opening and closing food containers to reaching into cabinets or squeezing a pastry bag filled with icing. Alongside this is tactile function; kneading dough, feeling the heat from the oven, and even burning a fingertip are all tactile responses common in the kitchen.
Baking also has an emotional element. For the baker, it can become meditative, as it requires mindfulness and focus, and serves as a creative outlet. This, in turn, helps alleviate stress and anxiety. Baking with a loved one can also impact emotional health, as it strengthens the bond between bakers and gives them a sense of pride in their shared creation.

Baking Your Way to Better Brain Health

If fresh-baked treats aren’t reason enough to don your apron and get baking, the benefits to your brain health should be. Not only does baking help improve emotional well-being, the process can also slow cognitive decline. Cumberland Village supports any activity that benefits the whole-body health of residents, especially when the results of that activity are shared deliciously among others.