Eating a healthy, nutritious diet is good for all of us. The right foods can help us stay healthy, give us energy and keep us functioning at our very best. While this is true for everyone at any age, this is especially true for seniors with memory loss caused by dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive issues.
“It’s been proven that poor nutrition doesn’t just cause poor health for individuals with dementia; it also can increase some of the unwanted behavioral symptoms associated with these forms of disease,” says Phil Noto, Executive Director of Bridges® by EPOCH at Trumbull, a memory care assisted living community in Trumbull, CT. “On the other hand, eating foods that have been shown to assist with brain health – particularly in the early stages of dementia – can actually help reduce and ward off brain decline and improve cognitive functioning. By following a healthy diet, you as a caregiver can help provide your loved one with better brain health, better moods and a higher quality of life overall.”
The Basics of Beneficial Nutrition
There’s no special diet for someone with dementia. In fact, the basic rules of what constitutes a “good” diet are the same whether you have dementia or you’re a completely healthy younger person. In a nutshell, your loved one’s meal plan should include:
- A variety of foods that include lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy.
- Appropriate portion sizes.
- A limit on foods that have high saturated fats and cholesterol.
- Little to no added salt or sugar.
- Adequate hydration with a focus on water.
Before you begin any sort of “diet” for your loved one, check with their physicians and care team to see if any of the medications they’re taking may react poorly to specific foods or drinks.
Good Brain Foods for Individuals with Dementia
You probably already have a good idea of what foods are good for your brain (it has been a hot topic for the past few years, after all). Here are some specifics that you can incorporate into your daily diet to help improve health and give your loved one with dementia more good days than bad days:
- Dark, leafy vegetables. Greens like spinach, kale, broccoli, eggplant and other richly-colored vegetables are chock full of antioxidants, vitamin K and foliate (among others), which are thought to help slow cellular deterioration and cognitive decline, as well as reduce brain inflammation and keep the vascular symptom running smoothly – all things that are related to dementias like Alzheiemer’s disease.
- Dark-skinned fruits. Berries and other dark-skinned fruits like plums, red grapes and cherries are also chock full of antioxidants and vitamins that can help slow mental decline in the areas of the brain that affect focus and memory.
- Avocados. They’re not just the trendy choice for Millennials. Avocados are packed with healthy fats that can help with blood flow and vascular health. Plus, they’re incredibly versatile and tasty. They can easily be added into a smoothie, placed on top of a salad, used as a dip for healthy chips or eaten with some olive oil and pepper for a filling snack.
- Nuts. Almonds, pecans and walnuts (just to name a few) are filled with healthy fats and nutrients. Walnuts, especially, are a good source of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which can help improve oxygen flow to the brain.
- Cold-water fish. Omega-3 fatty acids are great for your little gray cells due to their ability to boost communication between neurons. Choose trout, sardines, tuna, salmon, mackerel, cod and halibut for the best bang for your buck.
- Chocolate. Who said eating healthy can’t be sweet? Dark chocolate has long been touted as a great way to up your antioxidant update as well as satisfy a sweet tooth. Pair a handful of nuts and berries with some dark chocolate, and voila – a healthy and delicious dessert.
- Eggs. Eggs have gotten a bad rap over the years, but these days, they’re firmly back on the “good” list. In fact, they’re considered to be a superfood for dementia patients due to their high amount of choline (a nutrient that helps the body make neurotransmitters that help in boosting memory).
- Olive oil. This incredibly versatile oil is high in “good fats” that can help slow down brain aging. It’s great for cooking and can be used in just about any dish. Sub it for other fats, and your taste buds will barely notice the difference (but your body will certainly reap the benefits).
Additional Benefits of Good Nutrition
Your loved one’s brain health is only a part of keeping them happy and healthy. A good diet can improve their quality of life across the board by:
- Preventing constipation with an increase of fiber and adequate hydration.
- Reducing disturbing behaviors like agitation, anxiety, aggression and even symptoms of sundowning.
- Easing dry mouth and dehydration.
- Helping increase the efficiency of medications because your loved one’s systems are working the way they’re supposed to.
- Reducing their risk of developing serious ailments like obesity, heart issues, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Tips for Encouraging Good Nutrition
- Introduce new foods one at a time and give your loved one a chance to become used to the change. Overwhelming him or her with new foods may backfire.
- Start small by subbing “good” foods for “bad” foods, such as whole wheat toast instead of white toast at breakfast.
- Help your loved one focus on more nutritious foods in the meal first. You can also eat meals in stages, with the healthier foods first and the more “treat-like” foods served after.
- Make healthy options easy and appetizing. Cut vegetables into bite-sized options and have them on hand to offer for snacks.
- Make meals enjoyable by having friends or family come to visit at that time. If mealtime becomes a social event, your loved one may eat better and look forward to the experience.
- Get enough exercise, which boosts appetite and encourages healthy eating.
- Discuss your loved ones needs with their doctor and ask for recommendations for a dietician if you need ways to make eating fun, easy and healthy for your loved one with dementia.
If you would like more information about how nutrition can help your loved one with dementia live a higher quality of life, please contact us on our website.
Bridges® by EPOCH at Trumbull’s highly specialized, resident-centered BRIDGES® program is a positive, uplifting approach to memory care and wellness that focuses on a resident’s current skills and abilities, not on those that have been lost to dementia.
Each programming plan is as unique as the resident it serves, requiring all Bridges®team members to take an active interest in getting to know each resident on a personal level. Then, accounting for a particular resident’s preferences, interests, needs and abilities, we customize the most efficient blend of expert-recommended care, exercises, activities and communication techniques in order to connect with the individual, encourage their involvement in daily life and create happy, meaningful moments.
Bridges® by EPOCH at Trumbull features four distinct households, each with its own spacious common areas, along with 14 private and two companion suites. Suites feature private bathrooms and walk-in showers.
Each household has a home-like look and feel, creating an atmosphere of warmth, security and comfort for our residents and their families. While furnishings are provided, we encourage families to furnish their loved ones’ suites with favorite possessions from home to help them feel at home.
Featuring stunning residential design that complements the surrounding community, every inch of the interior is designed to benefit those with Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. Attributes such as soft colors, directional cues, aromatherapy and interactive life stations create a soothing and secure environment where residents feel comfortable and safe.
Contact us today to learn more about Bridges® by EPOCH at Trumbull or to schedule a personal tour.