Photography: Lisa Linder


Baking with mum who has dementia

When chef Julie Jones discovered her mum’s illness she hit the kitchen, and created some shared experiences and memories along the way

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By Julie Jones on

With the sun shining, my mum and family around me and a second baby on the way, I stood on the hotel balcony on my wedding day, looking down onto the beautiful Italian town of Minori. Seeing the blue skies and sea views before me, I was overwhelmed with happiness and love. I felt incredibly lucky, it was everything that we wanted our special day to be.

That was seven years ago. Shortly after my wedding I noticed things weren’t quite right with Mum. She started to say strange things, was forgetful and would do odd things around the house. One afternoon when we were in the car and stopped at traffic lights, she turned to me and told me that she had forgotten what to do. We sat at that light through three changes before something clicked back into place and off she drove. There was a big change after that day; she had frightened herself and afterwards became very worried and anxious – she knew something was wrong. Things rapidly worsened and with her confidence knocked, she slipped into her own thoughts, terrified to share her concerns.

Mum became extremely depressed. She stopped eating, wouldn’t wash or change her clothes and she didn’t want to go out. If we did coax her out she would wander behind us with no interest, hardly saying a word. During her diagnosis we would try to talk about dementia to her but she didn’t want to hear it, lashing out at us saying she “had no such thing.” Eventually, when an official diagnosis was made, she was prescribed medication which slows further damage to the brain along with some anti-depressants. Over time (and after losing four and a half stone) she started to eat properly again and would allow me to bathe her and we would go out. Even though her mental state was worsening her knowledge of what was happening to her had diminished, which I guess made it easier.  

It was an impulsive decision to bake a cake with mum one afternoon; a simple idea which went on to save those last few months we had together from being stressful ones

I was taking Mum out again, visiting cafes and the like. Although she would never really know what we were doing or where we were going, we would enjoy our time together. However, soon after my third child was born, Mum’s condition got worse. She became highly anxious and didn’t want to go out any more, so instead we would spend long afternoons in my house, me trying to reassure her and answering the same questions countless times. It could be exasperating, especially with three children also needing my attention.

It was an impulsive decision to bake a cake with mum one afternoon; a simple idea which went on to save those last few months we had together from being stressful ones. I have such fond memories of those afternoons. As soon as we would start to bake, her symptoms would ease, her anxiety vanishing for those few hours. Seeing her be just a fraction of that person she once was was very touching and I would eagerly await our next baking day.

I started to take pictures of my Mum baking as a precious reminder of those days; a cherished record of the better times shared. Later I began sharing those pictures on Instagram and through this found myself connecting with others that were going through similar situations. It was very therapeutic.

Eventually Mum was sectioned and admitted to a specialist dementia ward, staying there for three months. Upon discharge she was placed in full time care. She was 71.

I have felt such sadness through my Mum’s illness, being my best friend I miss her so much. To switch off from my grief I continued to bake, finding it both relaxing and therapeutic, longing for the quiet hours of cooking in silence during an evening at home. I also continued to post my bakes on Instagram, and through this I have gained confidence and have been able to write openly about how I am feeling.

The response has been so positive, the comments I received so comforting and supportive. I shall be ever grateful for those connections I've made during such a distressing time.

And never did I imagine that two years on I would have a book of my very own. Unbeknownst to me a commissioning editor had been following my posts for quite some time.  After being touched by my words of love for my mother and enjoying my creative flair, I was offered the chance to write the book, an opportunity I grasped with both hands. To have a book dedicated to my lovely Mum and for her to be remembered within its pages, is a very special thing indeed.

If only she knew.


Julie Jones's book Soulful Baker is out this week, published by Jacqui Small RRP, £20. Click here to buy.

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Photography: Lisa Linder
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