This Is Your Brain On Ice Cream

This Is Your Brain On Ice Cream post page

Stephanie Landmann

By Stephanie LandmannJuly 16th, 2020

This Is Your Brain On Ice Cream


by Stephanie “Teffie” Landmann, COTA/L,
PAC Support Mentor, Coach, and Trainer

A while ago, pre-COVID-19 stay at home orders, I took a trip to one of my favorite ice cream parlors. The sizes are; like it, love it, and gotta have it. Of course, I went for the gotta have it, this is ice cream after all. The size options made me think of a part of our brain. How does ice cream relate to the brain? I am so glad you asked.

In that moment, standing at the counter, my amygdala was saying, I need ice cream! Meeting your needs is one of the functions of the amygdala; I like it, I want it, I need it. Why is this part of the brain so important? We need it for survival. Imagine a hot sunny day working in the yard. After an hour or so you might like some water, but you skip it and keep working. A little bit more time passes now you want some water, and still you skip it. More time passes and now you need water. The amygdala is helping you survive by helping your body meet its needs without actively thinking about it. When is the last time you had to think about breathing or making your heart beat?

So, what happens for someone living with dementia or other brain changes? Interestingly, the amygdala gets more power (glucose) than other parts of the brain. You could say the brain goes into survival mode. It is a good thing too. We need the amygdala to control our breathing, heart rate, and to tell us when to eat or drink. It helps us as care partners as well. Someone with brain change might say, I need coffee. Yet you know they just had their 10th cup of coffee. Their amygdala is giving us a message. Now it is time for your brain to kick in with help. They are saying they need coffee, maybe because they are still holding the empty 10th cup of coffee or could it be a different need, say to eliminate some of the 10 cups of coffee?

Where are you at care partners? Would you like help and support from PAC, do you want help and support from PAC, or do you need help and support from PAC? Wherever your amygdala is at, we are here for you.

11 Comments on “This Is Your Brain On Ice Cream”

    1. Stephanie Landmann

      Great connection Kitty. Yes, I “need” something might be different than what they say. For example “I need to go home”. When they are in their home. What could that mean? If you think of home as an emotion rather than a structure, home becomes a place of comfort or familiarity.

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    Very interesting – thank you! Speaking of ice cream, my mother is addicted to sweets! If you need to bribe her, ice cream works! Never hungry for nutritious foods – just sugar! What is the brain craving that it’s not getting?
    Thank you!

    1. Stephanie Landmann

      So you noticed that your mother craves sweets not nutritious foods. Nice pick up and let me say, me too. I crave sweets as well all day long. The primitive brain, that part that helps keep us alive my meeting our basic needs. It tells us when to breath when we need hydration and nutrition. It works so well that we don’t actively thinking about it. I can’t remember the last time I have actively thought; okay take a breath in now let it out. Same with nutrition the primitive brain sends a signal out to say hey I could use some fuel up here resources are getting a little low. The fuel needed is glucose or sugar. Thankfully most of the time my frontal lobe kicks in and says better to eat your dinner first then you can have the ice cream. For people living with dementia or brain change the primitive brain and visual data is driving the body. So if I need fuel and I want sweets that’s what I want especially if I see the sweets.

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    Any pointers on how to deal with sun downing and the occasional incidents of sleepwalking? We were awoken three times the other night with great confusion and fear of bombs attacking us.

    1. Stephanie Landmann

      Awoken three times the other night. Yeah that is tough. I’m sorry this is happening. We do have some resources on sun downing. Here are a few links for you to check out.

      Also please keep in mind we are available for free 30 min consults.

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    Hope you will continue the analogy to ice cream. What happens to one part impacts another. The more we know, the better we respond. The better we respond the less stress for all concerned. Caregiving is like a college course with internship. So grateful I found a Teepa and PAC.

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    Great connections correlating ice cream and amygdala function. That’s a visual that clicks for me.

    1. Stephanie Landmann

      Yes, the more we can do to raise awareness knowledge and skill the better for everyone.

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    Thinking about Ice cream and sweets, makes me think of Birthday Parties, being welcomed home or to Grandparents house, summer time rides on Sunday afternoons and stooping for ice cream, going to the soda fountain with a friend, making ice cream with my other grand parents, going to the county fair or an amusement park. My parents looked forward to having a dish of ice cream together in the summer time when my Dad got home from his hot outside job. I’ll remember this the next time my Mother (now 92 10/12) asks me if I would like some ice cream! (Three times in 5 minutes!) Thanks for this insight!

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