Ice cream and memory

A 2014 study in the Journal of Neuroscience found a direct link between the region of the brain responsible for taste memory and the area responsible for encoding the time and place we experienced the taste.  Additionally, the study found that the brain associates taste with memories of being in a location where either positive or negative things happened. 

If you’ve ever enjoyed a chocolate dipped cone on a hot summer day and found your mind wandering back to happy childhood memories of eating ice cream at the beach, you’ve experienced this connection firsthand. 

In long-term care, this link means that something as simple as ice cream can provide a powerful tool to remind a senior of happy times in their lives.  Such memories can, in turn, help them regain confidence by reflecting on who they are, and all that they’ve accomplished in their lives.

For those with dementia, food’s connection to memory can have additional benefits.  Seniors with dementia can experience increasing levels of anxiety as they notice their diminishing abilities, and growing confusion about the world around them.  Recalling a long and strongly-held memory, like eating ice cream at a birthday party, in a part of the brain not yet affected by the disease can provide a calming effect that allows affected seniors to communicate more meaningfully with those around them.

We all scream for ice cream

One of the most under-reported challenges for seniors in long-term care is loneliness.  Care residents are twice as likely to feel lonely as seniors living in community, and 49% of BC care residents have low social engagement (are socially isolated, feeling lonely, or having difficultly engaging with others and making new friends). 

Left unresolved, these feelings of loneliness can be a big problem: older adults who experience social isolation and loneliness are more likely to become inactive, grow frail, become depressed, and experience advancing dementia, obesity, and heart disease. These health consequences are interrelated, with one worsening the other, and can be irreversible or even fatal.

An important part of enhancing care for seniors, therefore, is helping them to make new friends and to connect with their fellow residents in long-term care.  There are few things in this world get people young and old to stop whatever their doing and gather around like hyper-palatable, melt-in-your-mouth ice cream treats, and ice cream days in long-term care create new opportunities for socialization and friend-making.

So thank you for your support of Eldercare, and for your help in delivering ice cream treats to local seniors in need!