I’ve worked with several different activity directors in senior care facilities, including skilled nursing, assisted living and memory care,  to develop afternoon tea as an activity. The results were remarkable and consistent at every facility in several ways.

  • Residents who did not participate in other activities came to tea.
  • Some who seldom spoke became more conversational.
  • They almost all had memories connected to sharing tea.

My tea events were never intended to be “studies” or to be scientific research. But the results were obvious enough for me to feel confident in saying that the experience of tea can call back memories and inspire a sense of being present in that moment. The activity of preparing and sharing tea stimulated memories that are very meaningful. The results were almost always so positive that activity directors made tea parties regular events on the monthly calendar. I’ve written up some of my hints for organizing simple afternoon tea in senior units for our “How To Sip-In” book for Sip for Peace 2019

After these experiences, I was particularly interested in scientific studies that looked at the activity of preparing and sharing tea as a diagnostic took and treatment for dementia. 

Two Studies Explore the Benefits of Making Tea for Dementia Patients

 Neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia, like Alzehimers, have been of particular interest in the scientific research of tea and health. Most of these focus on aspects of how the chemistry of the tea leaf offer benefits to the human body. (See some links below.) But I recently discovered two studies that consider the physical and mental health aspects of the act of preparing tea and how it can be considered in the evaluation of and treatment of dementia. One of these used controlled observations of their subjects over time to observe how the activity of making tea changed and the ability to do so eroded with the progression of the disease. They refer to this as “Action-based Memory”. The other focused on how the act of preparing tea had held meaning for the individuals she observed.

Action-based Memory in Alzheimer’s Disease: a Longitudinal Look at Tea Making

A study conducted by Jennifer Rusted and Linda Sheppard in 2010.

We assessed memory in a natural setting, visiting volunteers in their homes. We video-taped performance on the selected task and analyzed the record for the presence or absence of each of its component actions over a period of 6 years. In this way, we obtained longitudinal data for a small group of people moving from the mild-moderate stages of dementia through to severe dysfunction.

In this study, Rusted and Sheppard were primarily concerned with comparisons between memory function that is more abstract and memories that are connected with a physical activity. They noted that there was a substantial preservation of performed recall for everyday tasks. In this case, the preparation of tea. They noted differences between performing the task in a familiar setting and in a new and unfamiliar setting. They also observed and discussed how the ability to perform the daily task of making tea degraded over time and could be one of the skills tracked and considered to evaluate the progression of the disease. 

More than a cup of tea: Meaning construction in an everyday occupation

by British Occupational Therapist, Deborah Hannam. Some of the most interesting aspects of her work are that she recognized activities of daily living with meaning as being of relevance in the treatment of dementia and that she created different categories of meaning.

  • reasons for tea‐drinking
  • the senses
  • objects used
  • the social context
  • changes in lifestyle

 Hannam chose the preparation of tea as an activity with meaning. In doing so, it seems that she may be opening up a very interesting

The objective world is given meaning through activity and language. The process of creating meaning takes place throughout life and is shaped by our social and cultural environment. Yet little is known about the role of everyday activity in the construction and maintenance of meaning.”

 Of course, we cannot draw far-reaching conclusions from small studies like these, there is a feeling of common sense for most of us tea drinkers for whom tea has become, over time, a daily practice and an important daily activity. If we consider that tea preparation can and often does become a mindfulness or meditation practice and even more meaningful, it seems logical to find similar health benefits to tea preparation.  

Family Tea Times  & Health

So, I’ll pose this question: Are we missing an important opportunity to create meaning for ourselves and our children if we do not embrace a tea tradition in as individuals and as families? 

The teatime memories of the residents in senior care facilities all began as young children. They were moments shared with the adults in their lives who set aside a special time in the day where the main activity, other than tea and treats, was conversation. For others, memories were more sensory; the feeling of holding a warm cup, the aroma of the tea, the clink of the china cup.  What is it that a mindful tea practice provides each of us to treasure and to share. I wrote a section about this in my book, The Everything Healthy Tea Book. 

An excerpt from pages 258 – 259. 

The original “high tea” was actually a family teatime in England, while “low tea” or “afternoon tea” was the social event. Afternoon tea was served in a parlor or drawing room on a “low table,” in contrast to a dining room table used for a larger meal. Originally, the word “high” referred to the height of the table, the one where the family gathered at the end of the day for a substantial meal along with tea and conversation. The essence of the original “high tea” is being revitalized when families set aside special teatimes, where phones and other electronics are turned off and simple fare doesn’t distract from the what’s really important—uninterrupted conversation.

All too often, modern family life unavoidably interrupts family mealtimes. Teatime also has an advantage because it is not considered to be one of the required daily meals. It is not an obligation. Even simple daily teatime can feel like a party.

Parents looking for more ways to spend meaningful time with their children are discovering teatime. In addition to starting a simple family tradition, exploring the fun of tea encourages it as a replacement beverage for canned sodas, and naturally sweet, flavored teas can eliminate the need for added sugar. healthy fruit dishes served at teatime can replace nutritionally empty sweets. Preparation for a family teatime can be a way a fun way to involve children in the kitchen and teach cooking basics—even sharing some of the secret family recipes (or making them up together).

Read More About The Science

Tea consumption reduces the incidence of neurocognitive disorders: Findings from the Singapore longitudinal aging study  by L. Feng, M.S. Chong, W. S. Lim, Q. Gao, M.S.Z. Nyunt, T.S. Lee, S.L. Collinson, T.Tsoi, E.H. Kua, T.P. Ng

When Science Meets Mindfulness, by Alvin Powell, 

Action-based Memory in Alzheimer’s Disease: a Longitudinal Look at Tea Making

by Jennifer Rusted  & Linda  Sheppard Published online: 09 Aug 2010

We obtained longitudinal data for a small group of people moving from the mild-moderate stages of dementia through to severe dysfunction.

Daily consumption of tea may protect the elderly from cognitive decline  by National University of Singapore, March 16, 2017  

Tea drinking reduces the risk of cognitive impairment in older persons by 50 per cent and as much as 86 per cent for those who are genetically at risk of Alzheimer’s, new research suggests.

More than a cup of tea: Meaning construction in an everyday occupation

Deborah Hannam, Journal of Occupational Science Published online: 26 Sep 2011

The paper describes a small scale, qualitative study designed to increase knowledge about meaning construction in one such occupation: tea‐drinking. There were two aims: firstly to identify the elements of making and drinking tea which elicited meaning and secondly, to discover whether elicited meaning and secondly, to discover whether these meanings were shared or unique to each individual. 

Green tea extract enhances parieto-frontal connectivity during working memory processing      by André Schmidt, Felix Hammann, Bettina Wölnerhanssen, Anne Christin Meyer-Gerspach, Jürgen Drewe, Christoph Beglinger, Stefan Borgwardt  Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2014; 231(19): 3879–3888.

“Green tea extract increased the working memory induced modulation of connectivity from the right superior parietal lobule to the middle frontal gyrus. Notably, the magnitude of green tea induced increase in parieto-frontal connectivity positively correlated with improvement in task performance.”