Dementia and Nutrition: How a Brain-Healthy Diet Can Reduce the Risk of Memory Loss

strawberriesAccording to current medical research in the specialty of neuroscience, the path to brain fitness – including the delay and possible prevention of memory loss – begins with regular physical activity, a socially engaged lifestyle and good nutrition. Experts define a brain-healthy diet as one that reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes, encourages good blood flow to the brain and is low in fat and cholesterol. Similar to your heart, the brain needs the right balance of nutrients to function effectively.

Eating for a Healthy Brain
In the recent government publication, The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture provide evidence-based advice on food choices that promote good health. Specifically, the report recommends a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk, which includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. The optimal diet should also be low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt and added sugar.

The Ingredients of a Brain-Healthy Diet
In the article, Adopt a Brain-Healthy Diet, the Alzheimer’s Association offers the following key recommendations for keeping your brain healthy and maintaining cognitive functions such as memory.

Manage your body weight – A long-term study of 1,500 adults found that those who were obese in middle age were twice as likely to develop dementia in later life. Those who also had high cholesterol and high blood pressure had six times the risk of dementia. For best results, adopt an overall food lifestyle rather than a short-term diet. And remember, always eat in moderation!

Reduce your intake of foods high in fat and cholesterol – Studies have shown that a high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol clogs the arteries and is associated with higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease. However, HDL (or “good”) cholesterol may help protect brain cells. Use mono- and polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil and try baking or grilling food instead of frying.

Vitamins may be helpful – Currently, there is some indication that vitamins such as vitamin E, or vitamins E and C together, vitamin B12 and folate, may be important in lowering your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. A brain-healthy diet will help increase your intake of these vitamins and the trace elements necessary for the body to use them effectively.

Increase your intake of protective foods – Current medical research indicates that certain foods may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and also protect brain cells. While not enough information is available to pinpoint what quantities of these foods might be most beneficial for brain health, they have demonstrated cognitive benefits. Protective foods include:

  • In general, dark-skinned fruits and vegetables have the highest levels of naturally occurring antioxidant levels. These vegetables include: kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, beets, red bell peppers, onions, corn and eggplant. Fruits with high antioxidant levels include prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges, red grapes and cherries.
  • Cold-water fish contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids: halibut, mackerel, salmon, trout and tuna.
  • Some nuts can be a useful part of your diet; almonds, pecans and walnuts are a good source of vitamin E, an antioxidant.

Drink Plenty of Water – Water is also essential for the electrical transmissions within the nervous system that enable sensing, learning, thinking and acting.

While the research is not yet conclusive, certain lifestyle choices such as diet and physical activity can help support brain health and might actually prevent Alzheimer’s disease. By incorporating a brain-healthy diet into an overall lifestyle regimen that includes regular exercise and social engagement, you can protect your overall health and delay the onset of memory loss.

For caregivers who recognize that the needs of their loved one are beyond what they can safely and appropriately provide in the home environment, leading residential memory care assisted living communities (MCALs), such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes and its “New Directions”SM  program, provide the full continuum of services that have been shown to improve health and well-being, support brain health and delay the progression of memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

At North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, we believe senior adults thrive in an environment that offers an active, vibrant lifestyle with a variety of activities that engage the mind, body and spirit. Our “New Directions”SM  provides a safe, professional environment and proven, best-practice programs and services specifically designed to address the total physical, emotional and social needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other serious form of memory impairment.

For more information on how North Woods Village can help you engage your loved one with Art Therapy, contact us today!