Dec 12, 2017
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Alzheimer’s and Nutrition

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.  Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and appears usually after age 60. Research has been showing that although this may not be reversible once symptoms appear, it may be prevented or slowed with a more nutritious diet and other lifestyle factors.

To eat right for brain health, the following steps are suggested:

  • Eat a well-balanced heart-healthy diet.
  • Increase intake of colored, dark-skinned fruits and vegetables including those rich in vitamin E and beta-carotene (i.e. black/blueberries, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes).
  • Consume a typical “Mediterranean” diet rich in mono-saturated fatty acids (olive oil, avocados, nuts)
  • Have at least two servings of baked or broiled fish each week.
  • Include whole grains, beans, eggs, and nuts.
  • Include Omega-3 fatty acids – found in cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, and lake trout; also found in green leafy vegetables, flaxseed oil, and walnuts.
  • Eats foods that contain B6 and B12 – found in bananas, beans, and chicken breasts (B6), and shellfish, salmon, trout, liver, and lean beef (B12).
  • Consume foods rich in antioxidants, which can help protect the brain from the formation of free radicals – found in berries like blueberries & blackberries, nuts, vegetables such as artichokes and red cabbage, and spices such as turmeric and ground cinnamon.

Did you know that Alzheimer’s might be a manifestation of chronic inflammation?  Avoiding pro-inflammatory foods may help to prevent or slow the decline of dementia as well as avoid other health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.  Pro-inflammatory foods include sugars; common cooking oils containing omega-6 fatty acids such as corn and sunflower oil; trans fatty acids; red meat and processed meats; refined grains; foods that you may be sensitive to (common culprits include gluten, lactose, nuts, and eggs).

Once someone has Alzheimer’s, there is no special diet that will help, but here are tips for dealing with some common challenges:

  • Eat a balanced diet from a variety of food groups, limit foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol, cut down on sugars, limit foods high in sodium and use less salt, and stay hydrated.
  • Check for food-drug interactions.  Some medications may affect appetite, bowel movements, or have other side effects that can affect nutrition.
  • Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and drinking enough water may help in preventing constipation.
  • The thirst signal may be diminished and some medications may be drying to the mouth.  Beside drinking water, try dunking bread/toast/cookies in milk, hot chocolate, or tea.  Take a drink after each bite of food to help swallow.  Add broth or sauces to make foods softer.  Eat sour candy or popsicles to help increase saliva and moisten the mouth.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.  Problems such as diminished sense of hunger & thirst, problems eating or swallowing, problems using utensils or inability to feed self, poor food choices, and depression can all affect weight maintenance.  Smaller, more frequent meals may help, referral to a speech pathologist, good oral care, provide adaptive equipment as needed, multivitamin with minerals, pleasant social surroundings, and medical treatment for depression can help with this challenge.

 

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