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Alzheimer's and Diet: Does It Make a Difference?

Alzheimer’s Disease has been linked to many lifestyle factors, and diet is one that many researchers believe could make a difference. A healthy lifestyle is thought to help to lower a person’s risk of developing dementia, and current recommendations include exercising regularly, eating healthily and not smoking. Experts also say that maintaining a healthy weight, drinking only in moderation and ensuring your blood pressure stays in a healthy range are also important.

Diet and dementia

One study has claimed that adopting a new diet could reduce a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s by up to half. Researchers looked at the effects of three different diets on the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. They compared the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet, which aims to reduce blood pressure, with a Mediterranean-type diet and the new MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, which is a combination of the other two.

The DASH diet

This diet has been used in elderly care to reduce the risk of stroke by lowering blood pressure. The diet restricts sweets, fats and salt. Whole grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy products, fish, meat, nuts and legumes are all allowed.

The Mediterranean diet

Health professionals and private care providers recommend the Mediterranean diet, which has long-been thought to promote heart health. This diet also includes whole grains, fruit and vegetables, along with olive oil, nuts, legumes and a moderate amount of wine. Red meat and full-fat dairy products are restricted.

The MIND diet

Researchers developed this diet with dementia care in mind, combining elements of the previous two diets, along with other foodstuffs that are believed to protect the brain. Whole grains, olive oil, leafy green vegetables, fish, poultry, berries, beans and nuts are all included, as are other vegetables, and a glass of wine daily. This diet restricts meat products, red meat, fast food, butter, cheese, fried food, sweets and pastries.

Volunteers living in elderly care communities and public housing were asked to fill in a questionnaire assessing their diet. They also had yearly neurological examinations for the next four or five years to check for Alzheimer’s disease.

The results of the study suggested that older people who regularly ate a diet similar to any of the three healthy diets were at a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s than those people whose diet was less healthy. The MIND diet produced the greatest effect, with those who followed it found to be up to 52 percent less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease.

Although the study shows that people whose diet is healthy are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, there is no proof that it is the actual diet that provides protection against the disease, as there are various potential causes.

Mikis’ care story

In this short video, Nick and Maro explain their reasons for choosing Elder live-in care.

They discuss how live-in care has allowed Nick’s father Mikis to stay independent in his own home while making a new friend at the same time.

Protecting against memory loss

You will, of course, be keen to ensure that your loved one enjoys a healthy diet, whether they are maintaining independent living in their own home, have traditional home care or are supported by a live-in carer. If they have dementia and need Alzheimer’s care, it is still important that their diet includes foods that can boost memory.

Make sure that your loved one’s caregiver is aware of the foods they should be eating, to keep them healthy and protect their brain functions. If you have arranged private live-in care at home for your loved one, their carer will prepare meals for them and should be able to encourage them to eat healthily.

Foods to include in their diet are leafy green vegetables, berries and other dark-skinned fruits, extra virgin olive oil, cold-pressed virgin coconut oil, chocolate, coffee, and cold-water fish including salmon.

Certain foods are thought to cause memory loss by producing toxins in the body, and these should be avoided where possible. The toxins cause inflammation and plaque to develop in the brain, which in turn results in impaired memory and cognitive function. If your loved one has live-in care or needs dementia care, their carer should be advised to limit the following foods in their diet, as they have been linked to higher incidences of Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Processed meats, especially smoked meats such as bacon
  • Processed cheeses
  • White carbohydrates such as cakes, pasta, white sugar, white bread and white rice
  • Beer
  • Microwave popcorn

A healthy diet has many benefits for older people, receiving care, whether in-home, specialised dementia care or 24/7 assistance. Ensuring that the carer is aware of which foods to encourage and those to restrict can play a part in keeping your loved one physically and mentally healthy. However, it can be difficult for people to change their diets and ensuring that the older person enjoys their food is also important, so they should be supported to make their own choices too.

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