4 Nutrition Tips To Help your Loved One With Alzheimer's
Robert C. Fisher
As a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s (one of the types of dementia) patient, it is essential to understand how one’s diet can contribute to cognitive decline or delay loss in cognitive function.
Underlying conditions that act as risk factors for Alzheimer’s dementia (such as heart disease and oxidative stress) may be prevented or somewhat alleviated by consuming healthy foods. Recent studies are attempting to better understand how diets will impact neurodegenerative delay, but plenty of useful information is already available.
Specifically, eating patterns such as following a Mediterranean or MIND diet has been proven to improve cognitive health.
Scientists are still seeking answers as to whether there is a definitive connection between these diets and a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s or slowed memory loss.
The importance of a Healthy Diet for Brain Health
Alzheimer’s research has shown that habits across one's lifespan can contribute to the risk of dementia and increased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults—healthy eating now lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s and can increase health benefits down the line.
However, once a patient has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, even if they only show mild cognitive impairment, taking steps toward healthy eating can improve the patient’s neurology.
For the caretaker, information about different food groups and how they benefit or harm brain cells can better equip them to provide care to their patient. The Alzheimer’s Association emphasizes the importance of a healthy diet for an Alzheimer’s patient and suggests that a poor diet may worsen symptoms.
Before implementing a diet, however, a caretaker must be aware of how Alzheimer’s disease may affect a person’s appetite and eating habits.
Neurodegeneration may cause patients to be unwilling to eat due to a lack of appetite or lack of the taste and smell senses that make food enjoyable. By better understanding the patient’s experience, the caretaker might find empathy and patience with the challenges of implementing a healthy, consistent diet.
Nutrition’s effect on brain function
An Alzheimer’s patient’s diet is not only directly connected to brain function but also impacts many other aspects of one’s health that influence cognitive activity.
Patients with high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease/cardiovascular disease may experience cognitive symptoms due to these conditions that are impacted by diet.
Similarly, a poor diet can lead to weight loss, worsening the patient’s cognitive ability. Therefore, the foods an Alzheimer’s patient consumes have an immeasurable effect on brain function.
How can a Poor Diet affect an Alzheimer’s Patient’s Mood?
A poor diet for an Alzheimer’s disease patient may worsen behavioral symptoms. If the patient is not eating well, they may become more agitated or angry.
Additionally, a patient unable to eat or who finds little enjoyment in eating may become frustrated with their situation. In all of these cases, it is best to wait for the patient to calm down without putting any pressure on them and to pay attention to what they might need or want at that moment.
Just as a poor diet may worsen a patient’s mood, a good diet can help them feel better despite their situation.
When Alzheimer’s patients receive the dietary care they need, they will be physically stronger, feel more capable, and have the caloric and nutritional support they need to engage in activities and interact with those around them.
5 Nutritional Tips Your Loved One With Alzheimer’s Can Follow
Taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer's is no easy feat - that's why we've gone ahead and broken down five simple nutrition tips for your loved one to follow with your assistance.
These five tips detail the various ways you can assist your loved one nutritionally.
1. Consider the DASH Diet
DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) is promoted by the Alzheimer’s Association and aims to improve heart health by decreasing high blood pressure.
The DASH diet includes:
Avoiding red meat
Decreased fat intake (i.e., less fried foods and fast food)
2. Try The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet, also promoted by the Alzheimer’s Association, provides antioxidants that benefit the brain.
This diet includes:
Increased consumption of fruits (blueberries, avocados), green leafy vegetables, legumes, and whole grains
Healthier fats (olive oil instead of butter and margarine)
Weekly servings of fish
Avoiding red meat
Healthy dairy products (yogurt, milk, cheese)
3. Keep An Open Mind About Other Approaches
Different diets with possible benefits include amyloid plaque-transformation (low carbohydrate and fat) diets and the MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay).
Combined with (doctor-guided) physical activity, dietary supplements (such as omega-3 fatty acid), and any other physician-recommended interventions, implementing quality dietary habits for an Alzheimer’s patient will help to fortify a caretaker’s plan of care.
4. Avoid High-Cholesterol Foods & Limit Sodium and Sugar
It’s important to avoid monotony when planning an Alzheimer’s disease patient’s diet. Many patients already struggle to eat enough food, so if meals are un-enticing, it becomes even more difficult to get the necessary nutrients.
Keep in mind the following foods to avoid
Avoid foods with high cholesterol and saturated fats. Foods with high cholesterol and saturated fats can decrease health in general and are not recommended for Alzheimer’s disease patients. Avoiding high quantities of these substances in the patient’s diet is a good idea.
Limit sodium and sugar. Foods high in sugar typically lack nutritional value, and foods with too much sodium can increase blood pressure, causing hypertension and many other health issues.
Make sure your loved one doesn’t get dehydrated. By providing your loved one with fluids regularly, as a caretaker, you can encourage hydration without trying to get the patient to drink large amounts of water at one time.
How To Make Changes To Your Loved One’s Diet?
Even the most ideal and exciting diet may be impossible to implement for an Alzheimer’s patient who can’t seem to eat anything at all.
In this situation, it’s important to try and understand the difficulties that they are experiencing. Try to approach them calmly without pressuring them to eat.
The caretaker should consider:
Have mealtimes in an area that isn’t overwhelming or confusing for the patient.
Meals should be straightforward, and eating settings should be simple.
Don’t rush the meal, and don’t fill the room with distractions. This will help the patient to make sense of their situation and better enjoy their meal.
Consider the limitations of the patient’s symptoms.
Ensure their food isn’t too hot or too cold.
Remain empathetic to their preferences and try to be patient should they need more time to finish their meal.
Final Alzheimer’s Diet Tips
The dietary needs of an Alzheimer’s patient are similar to that of any person—just as any human being can improve their cognitive state through their diet, the caretaker of an
Alzheimer’s disease patients can slow the onset of symptoms through careful consideration of both the food they consume, as well as how they are equipped to eat it.