As we highlight Alzheimer’s this month, I wanted to look at the benefits of a healthy diet for those diagnosed with dementia and discuss some of the foods that recent research now suggests can help us all in the defense of the disease.
We all know that having a healthy, balanced diet is key to maintaining physical and mental well being, however, eating well is a huge challenge for those suffering with dementia and also for those who care for them.
Much of the challenge is centered around the fact that memory loss means that dementia suffers can forget to eat or get confused as to whether they have eaten or not. They don’t necessarily feel the same hunger pangs that healthy people do. Unfortunately, the lack of food and drink can quickly lead to dehydration, followed by confusion and tiredness, so it’s really important to keep a keen eye on what they’re consuming.
Eating is mainly a social practice
I think we can all agree that it is much more enjoyable to eat with someone else, than eat alone, but this can be a big problem for the elderly who live alone and dementia sufferers are hit harder than most in this regard.
I volunteer for a befriending service called Friends of the Elderly and every week visit a lovely 91 year old lady who has recently been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. She lives alone following the death of her husband (they were 70 years married) and often forgets to eat and drink or just doesn’t feel like eating on her own.
When her husband was alive, she ate at the dining table with him every night and they’d chat together. Now, her hot meal of the day, provided by Meals on Wheels is picked at on a tray in front of the TV.
Jane Clarke, one of Britain’s most trusted Nutritionists and a trained Cordon Bleu Chef, appreciates the importance of good nutrition when it comes to dementia. She recommends that carers try taking cues from their loved ones when it comes to tempting their appetite. She says, “If there are dishes they loved in the past or favorite family recipes, try making them easy-to-eat alternatives to these tried-and-trusted meals. The scent, taste, look and feel of familiar foods can all trigger a desire to eat and provide the comfort and nourishment they need. When we’re keen for someone to eat more, we often tend to load up a plate for them, but this can be over-facing and put them off even trying a few mouthfuls. Instead, try serving a small portion; you can always top it up if your loved one finishes it off and wants more.”
One thing is for certain, whenever I talk to my elderly friend about her childhood, she can remember a great deal! I talk a lot about food in general because I love to cook, and I occasionally bring her some homemade Bakewell Tart or Coffee & Walnut Cake – the sorts of treats that I enjoyed from my childhood and it makes her smile and she wolfs them down! No one makes Lancashire Hotpot like my late mother, but I’m going to give it a go and take the dish round to eat with my friend on one of my visits, as I know that it will tempt her appetite.
Food mood board
Jane also suggests creating a food mood board for the dementia sufferer created from photos of their favorite childhood dishes interspersed with people and places they know. Jane says this can be a great way to communicate and also stimulate a jaded appetite.
Guarding against the onset of dementia
Having a nourishing, well-rounded diet gives our brain the best chance of not succumbing to the dementia. Jane confirms, “There is new research that suggests that omega-3 fatty acids in particular can play a significant role in reducing some of the risk. Also, when dementia is diagnosed, it looks as if eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids could help to slow down the progression of the disease.”
Omega 3 can be found in lots of everyday food such as Oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards), Nuts and seeds such as linseed, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. You can get recipe ideas on how to incorporate these into your diet on Jane’s website or via the usual search engines using the key food words.
For more information about nutrition for dementia sufferers: