Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients often eat less compared to what they used to eat during their average years. This could be due to medical issues with chewing, swallowing, or digestion.
People’s interest in eating might wane at times. It can happen for many reasons, including a lack of taste, smell, memory loss, or the mistaken belief that they have eaten before. A number of drugs can have an impact on one’s appetite.
As symptoms of Dementia develop, the capacity and desire to eat deteriorates. Further, ensuring that Dementia patients have a nutritional meal or consume enough food can become a serious emotional and practical challenge for the caregiver.
Why Should Dementia Patients Eat Well, and Enough?
Nutrition is critical to one’s health and well-being. Getting the right nourishment through food can be challenging for Dementia patients.
It’s vital to keep in mind that Dementia affects people in different ways. Changes in food and drinking habits may occur as Dementia develops further. This might result in under-eating, which leads to weight reduction, or overeating, which leads to weight gain.
Unintentional weight loss can accelerate the onset of Dementia and increase the risk of other issues, including bedsores, infections, and falls due to disorientation and forgetfulness.
It is stressful to see our loved one struggling with eating and drinking and weight loss or gain. Dementia people can benefit from sound nutritional guidance. It will help them manage their symptoms and be as active, healthy, and independent as possible.
Dementia Changes Food Preferences
Food choices get influenced due to Dementia. Cognitive changes can cause some people to lose their ability to recognize specific foods, tastes, scents, and textures. Some people have a strong desire for sweet, sugary meals, while others prefer hot, spicy foods.
Satisfy these cravings with healthy alternatives like carrots, radishes, sweet potatoes, turnips, and peppers, which are inherently sweet. And to add sweetness, smear these salads with honey or sweet sauces like tomato sauce, redcurrant jam, cranberry sauce, chutney, and pickles. Spices, herbs, pepper, garlic, and lemon juice can be used as flavor enhancers, but don’t use too much salt.
Foods that were earlier enjoyed can be detested now. Consider how you would feel if you had an illness and your taste buds were impacted; this is similar to how a Dementia patient feels.
Making a list of dietary preferences, likes, and dislikes for sharing with family or caregivers can be beneficial, especially if a loved one has trouble conveying their preferences.
Best Foods for Dementia Patients to eat
A well-balanced diet can significantly slow the progress of Dementia. Certain meals include nutrients that not only nourish your body but your brain also. It is a known fact that some diets can help to delay or even prevent heart disease. Doctors believe that the same is true of our brain.
Dementia patients, thankfully, are not required to follow a restrictive and unsatisfying diet. Even small changes in lifestyle and dietary habits can improve the brain’s health, and help our loved one suffering from Dementia.
Some foods can help alleviate a few symptoms of Dementia. However, those needs to well-balanced with moderate treats. Some suggestions are mentioned below:
1. Green Leafy Vegetables
Folate, or Vitamin B9, is found in green leafy vegetables such as kale, arugula, spinach, mustard greens, and Swiss chard, and has been shown to boost memory in elderly adults. Folate contributes to serotonin levels, which aid in preventing depression (a prominent Dementia side effect). Vitamin E found in leafy vegetables has also been proven to have beneficial effects on the brain. These superfoods should be consumed by the elderly at least six times a week.
2. Cruciferous Vegetables
According to a study, (1) cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, brussels sprouts, etc., aid in memory retention. They are high in carotenoids and folate, which help decrease homocysteine levels — an amino acid related to cognitive impairment.
A modest handful of nuts is packed with nutrients such as Vitamin E, folate, omega-6, omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin B6, and magnesium. These nutrients assist in defending against memory loss as people become older, as well as enhance mood. Peanuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and pecans are all good sources of these nutrients.
Dementia patients love delicious berries. Anthocyanin, a phytochemical that are found in all berries. It shields your brain from harmful effects of free radicals, infections, and radiation (2). Blueberries have the highest antioxidant content, as well as high levels of Vitamin C and E.
Legumes are a good source of many nutrients. They also have choline: a B vitamin that promotes the production of acetylcholine – a vital neurotransmitter for brain activity. They should be included in a well-balanced, nutritious diet, since they aid in mental clarity.
The antioxidant flavanols in cocoa powder aid to increase the circulation of the blood to the brain (3). Try and choose darker chocolate as it will have less sugar and more flavanols.
According to a research published by the American Academy of Neurology (4), people above 65 who chose to eat omega-3 rich fish three or sometimes more weekly portions roughly had a 26% decreased risk of brain abnormalities that cause Dementia,. The omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) help to keep the brain in good form.
Seeds are high in Vitamin E, a nutrient linked to a reduced risk of cognitive impairment as people age (5). Sunflower seeds include choline, a nutrient that aids in brain function. Pumpkin seeds have zinc, which helps in memory and cognition, and tryptophan, which helps in depression. Flaxseeds which are high in memory-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, are a great alternative to fish.
9. Olive Oil
According to a recent study from Temple University (6), extra virgin olive oil use in adulthood can safeguard against dementia. Extra virgin olive oil consumption appears to prevent the onset of cognitive decline and dementia by decreasing the progression of tauopathies, a group of disorders.
When a protein known as tau builds up in the brain, it causes tauopathy, also known as frontotemporal dementia, which is characterized by a loss in cognitive function.
Spices provide flavor to your favorite foods while providing antioxidants and memory-enhancing chemicals. Cinnamon, for example, improves cognitive processing just by smelling it. Participants who took sage fared better on cognitive tests in research (7). Curcumin, a key element in turmeric, has been found to break up cerebral plaque and decrease inflammation, both of which can lead to memory issues (8).
Enhance the Dining Experiences
Everyone should enjoy eating and drinking, and it should be a group activity if possible. Meal times can be a highlight of the day where you can get together and talk with one another or with family and friends.
The benefits of drinking and eating with others can be huge. Sitting down to eat with a member of the family might bring up memories of previous mealtime experiences and encourage ‘copycat’ behavior, which can lead to increased eating and drinking.
There’s no reason why eating out shouldn’t be a social and fun activity anymore. Going to a favorite food joint or a cafe can evoke fond memories.
The Bottom Line
Eating may be challenging for our loved one suffering with Dementia, and their eating patterns and preferences may change. Changes in preferences can be abrupt, which can be upsetting for both the Dementia patient and those caring for them.
Make a list of the food preferences, and be sure to update it if their tastes change. Try not to rule out meals too early and reintroduce items they haven’t eaten in a while.
It might be difficult for Dementia patients to eat a well-balanced diet. Fish, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and soups and stews should all be included in a our loved one’s diet.
Swallowing difficulties are also a problem for some people with the disease. Dysphagia is the medical term for this disorder. Patients must be fed pureed veggies rather than raw vegetables to combat this. You might also concentrate on drinks and thicker soups. Spices and seasonings can be used to add flavor to them.
Also, keep in mind that not all fats are created equal. Avoid fatty cuts of meat and limit your usage of solid fats like butter. Instead, go for lean meats like chicken and fish. Opt for olive oil and other fats like avocado that are heart-healthy. In place of processed meals loaded with sugar, go for healthy alternatives like fruits or juices.
Hopefully, the points highlighted above will help you take better care of your loved one. Even though it can be frustrating at times, always try to be patient with them.