Thursday, April 24, 2014

Demystifying Dementia: Eating Right can help

After PHS editor and Harlequin Historical author Michelle Styles’s mother in law was taken into care with late stage dementia, Michelle had a crash course in dealing with dementia.
Basically researchers know that diet plays an important part in slowing dementia down. The right nutrition ensures the brain gets what it needs to function properly. It is also known that the long term consequences of anorexia includes dementia.  Some people theorise that the lack of proper nutrients at a young age can cause dementia later in life. For example the severe rationing during WW2 might be a cause of the marked increase of dementia of older people but this is impossible to say for definite.
What is clear that a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables can help delay dementia and slow its progress down. And it seems that eating healthfully before you hit about 50 can help.  
My mother in law before she was taken into care refused to eat. She would say that she wasn’t hungry or had been picking at food. This meant most of her diet consisted of toast and biscuits. A great aunt on my mother’s side had the same thing – her diet consisted mainly of Vanilla wafers and weak tea. She too ended up in care with dementia. 
Poor nutrition is known to effect brain function, hence why the big push for children to eat proper breakfasts. But it is easy to forget that the elderly can have trouble eating for a wide variety of reasons and that the narrowing of their diet can lead to other complications. In the later stages, patients forget how to chew and even how to swallow. They also forget how to use cutlery.
Getting people with dementia to eat, remember to eat and to eat a wide variety of food can be a challenge. At my mother in law’s care home, all the residents eat together and outside visitors are not allowed. This is to allow the patients to concentrate on the food and to ensure that they don’t say they had just eaten. When she was first in the home, my mother in law tried her old tricks of saying that she had already eaten etc. She was rapidly rumbled.
Vitamin B plays a role as does folic acid in improving brain function. Some people who suffer from dementia have found that if they take vitamin B12 and folic acid supplements, their brain function improves.  It is though high homocysteine might impair brain function. It is worth being tested for high homocysteine as some researchers believe that this plays a part. My mother in law however refused to take any sort of vitamin or pill. So sometimes these things are easier to say than actually to do.
Omega 3 Fat also is supposed to help protect. So think about cold water fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, anchovies and herring etc. Seeds such as flaxseed and pumpkin seed are also considered to be useful. Ground flaxseed is very easy to add to smoothies or sprinkle on salads/soups but keep it in the fridge as it does go off easily.
Increasing your Vitamin C and vitamin E intake through eating a wide range of colourful vegetables can also assist. Dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach, watercress and kale can be useful. Berries like blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are possibly better options than bananas.
Avoiding processed food because of its inherently high rate of sugar and salt can also help.
The bottom line really is that eating real food, mostly plant-based provides some protection from dementia later in life. It also helps you to look good now.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide variety of time periods. You can learn more about her books on

1 comment:

  1. That is so true! Eating well is vital to maintain good health for people who have dementia, although it can be challenging to do so as the disease progresses. However, it's helpful to be the support of someone who suffers from dementia, and help them eat more healthy and regularly. After all, malnutrition and dehydration contributes to the risk of developing worse delirium. Anyway, thanks for sharing such a great read, Michelle! All the best to you!

    Anette Phipps @ Nourished Balance