When caring for dementia patients, you know that feeding and nutrition can be challenging to say the least. Of course, as their condition progresses, issues with chewing and swallowing become more difficult, not to mention a significant loss of appetite. This is often a major learning curve for caregivers, as new routines and habits need to be formed.
As a caregiver, you’ll need to be creative and most importantly, attentive. Encouraging dementia patients to eat may take more than verbal communication — you may need to adjust how their food is presented. At the end of the day, a little creativity and common sense can go a long way, but please remember, if your loved one refuses to eat, you’ll need to speak with their physician immediately.
Education goes a long way and if you would like to better understand nutrition and how food can influence symptoms of dementia, then speak with a certified dietitian to get you on the right track. Although you may want to take the easiest route, processed foods should be avoided.
Each Individual Case Is Unique
Before we dive into specifics, it’s important to remind everyone that each case is unique in terms of the individual and their surroundings. Not only do individuals differ in terms of their progression, but the type of dementia may also influence one’s ability and desire to eat.
Within one study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, researchers examined three groups of patients — those with semantic dementia, those with frontal variant frontotemporal dementia (fv-FTD), and those with Alzheimer’s. They were interested in eating habits, satiety, and food preference.
The individuals in all three groups exhibited similar education levels and dementia severity. After administering a thorough questionnaire, it was found that changes in eating behaviors were significantly more common among those with fv-FTD and semantic dementia, in comparison to those with Alzheimer’s.
With that being said, as Alzheimer’s progresses, patients often exhibit significant feeding difficulties, which can result in unhealthy weight loss and a lack of energy. Although eating habits may change once an individual is diagnosed, research is now showing that one’s food intake may influence their condition far before a patient’s diagnosis.
This past summer, a large study, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, stated that diet appears to be the most important risk factor. The Western diet appears to increase one’s risk of Alzheimer’s, especially the consumption of sweets, meat, and high-fat dairy. In comparison, it appears that grain, fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, and low-fat dairy products reduce one’s risk.
Dementia Patients Should Avoid These 5 Foods
There has been plenty of recent research, focusing on foods which offer protective properties, including those rich in antioxidants and fatty acids. From green leafy vegetables to raw nuts, dementia patients should continually eat nutrient-dense whole foods, allowing them to maintain strength, promote positive heart health, and overall well-being.
A traditional Mediterranean diet has been associated with about half the risk for Alzheimer’s disease in comparison to the Western diet. Amazingly, traditional diets found within Japan, India, and Nigeria, with a very low consumption of meat, is associated with an additional 50 percent reduction in risk.
Unlike these beneficial foods, there’s also a list of foods that have been linked to a wide range of diseases, including dementia. Although avoiding these foods will not reverse the effects of one’s condition, this step will help maintain positive health, reducing one’s risk of co-morbid conditions while protecting remaining neurological function.
For years, the low-fat craze caused a boom in margarine sales — even though this product is highly processes and full of chemicals. Although margarine has been linked to a wide range of health conditions, based on trans fats and chemical additives, research has also shown a link between the ingredient diacetyl and Alzheimer’s.
While studying this ingredient, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that diacetyl promotes the clumping of beta-amyloid, a protein that is a hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s. This ingredient may also increase the toxic effects of this protein within the brain.
Instead of spreading margarine on toast, offer pureed avocado or an all-natural nut butter instead. While cooking, use nutrient-dense olive oil or coconut oil as a replacement for margarine. If you use it for baking, Greek yogurt or pumpkin puree are two great alternatives.
2. Fried Foods
Once again, fried foods have appeared in numerous studies, showcasing the negative effects these items have on our health. Not only are hydrogenated oils harmful to your health, but heating foods to extreme temperatures may also increase neural inflammation. AGEs (advanced glycation end products) are chemicals released when foods are commonly found in the Western diet are heated.
When these proteins or lipids are in the presence of sugars, they go through a process that makes cells age faster and become stiffer. Highly abundant in meat and dairy products, AGEs will increase in foods that are fried. While studying mice, it’s been found that those who ate more AGEs, were more likely to have a buildup of beta-amyloid protein plaques.
Soda is nothing more than empty calories, along with a large dose of sugar or artificial sweeteners. Linked to weight gain and cancer, a high intake of soda may also cause changes in the brain. While studying rats, scientists fed these subjects sugary water similar to the concentrations found in soda.
After just 26 days, they found profound changes in the brain, especially within regions associated with memory. They also found alterations in 290 brain proteins, as well as long-lasting behavioral changes. Instead of feeding dementia patients soda, please focus on a greater intake of water, herbal teas, and homemade smoothies.
4. Processed Meat
Whether you’re eating hot dogs or bacon, processed meats, including those you find behind the deli counter, often contain nitrosamines — an ingredients that causes the liver to produce fats that are toxic to the human brain. More specifically, nitrites and nitrates, which are abundant in processed meat, are nitrosamine compounds.
Once these toxic fats are produced, they’re able to cross the blood-brain barrier, damaging brain cells, causing the brain to develop insulin resistance. These harmful components are also found in some brands of beer, refined grains, processed cheese, and not surprisingly, cigarettes.
5. Foods Containing MSG
Found in packaged and processed foods, including chips, salad dressing, frozen dinners, and more, monosodium glutamate, better known as MSG, is a food additive that is used to preserve food and enhance its flavor. Unfortunately, it has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease in that it can intensify symptoms.
MSG overstimulates the nervous system and in turn, Alzheimer’s patients experience hypersensitivity to external stimuli, including cigarette smoke, foods, and airborne chemicals. More importantly, beta amyloid protein deposits appear to increase MSG’s toxicity, accelerating deterioration.
The food that we put into our bodies will not only determine our physical health, but also neurological. If you are caring for an individual with dementia, please ensure that they consume a balanced, nutrient-rich diet. Also, in order to encourage positive activities, invite them to cook with you. This can be a great experience for both the patient and caregiver.
https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=149 http://jnnp.bmj.com/content/73/4/371.full http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07315724.2016.1161566 http://www.cbsnews.com/news/eating-fried-foods-alzheimers-study/ https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/tx3001016