Most of us know the food we eat can impact our overall well-being, but did you know your choices at dinner time play a role in your brain’s health, too? What you eat may affect the chances you develop Dementia as you grow older.
Normally, most people think about food as a way to fuel the body, boost immunity, and build stronger bones and muscles. But a growing body of evidence shows that our diets have a profound impact on the most important muscle of them all: the brain.
A healthy diet supports normal brain function by supplying it with essential nutrients that keep it in perfect working order. That’s a reality for everyone, whether you’re receiving our Dementia Care services or live without any need for at-home health care at all. Good food supports better brain health.
But how can food help Seniors in the fight against developing Dementia? Let’s find out.
What Does Food Have to Do with Dementia Care?
Here at Integracare, we offer the best at-home Dementia Care services in Toronto and Mississauga by giving our Clients the support they need to continue living in the comfort and safety of their own home.
Food inevitably plays a large role in the services we provide, as our health care professionals may help Seniors shop for groceries, plan and cook meals, and eat when they require help with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs).
While not everyone will need this kind of help when they get older, certain risk factors increase the likelihood of getting Dementia. Obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes elevate your risk of getting the disease and requiring personalized Dementia Care.
Luckily, these health issues are something you can control through diet. Changing the way you eat can lower your blood pressure, reduce your weight, and improve your heart health to reduce your overall risk of developing Dementia.
However, it’s important to note that the Alzheimer Society of Toronto identifies poor diet as its very own risk factor separate from hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. That means eating badly may increase your risk of getting Dementia, even if your diet doesn’t cause other health issues.
Emerging research shows certain foods can improve your cognitive health beyond eliminating other risk factors. A healthy diet rich in vegetables, fish, plant-based proteins, and whole grains could slow cognitive decline in old age.
How can that work? And what foods do you need to eat to reap these brain-boosting benefits? Find out the answers to these questions and more below.
A Health Diet Contains These Brain-Friendly Nutrients
One person’s plate can look a lot different from another’s depending on your preferences, dietary restrictions, and culture. However, all balanced diets are usually rich in these building blocks of brain-friendly nutrients.
You’ve probably heard of superfoods rich in antioxidants in the news before. Each year, there seems to be a new buzzworthy berry or leafy green that promises to be the fountain of youth. But what are these antioxidants and what do they do?
Antioxidants (including vitamins A, C, and E) fight against free radicals, which have been linked to significant health issues like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Free radicals can also cause oxidative damage to the brain that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
You can add antioxidants to your diet by eating the following foods:
- Dark chocolate
- Leafy greens
B Vitamins & Folic Acid
The B-Vitamin family is a big one with eight distinct vitamins. B6 and B12 are perhaps the most well-known vitamins in the nutrition world. However, all the Bs have a role to play in cellular health and the growth of red blood cells.
Several studies show a diet rich in B vitamins prevents damage in parts of the brain, preventing cognitive decline that may lead to Dementia. The following items are rich in B vitamins:
- Dairy Products
- Fortified Cereals
- Fortified Plant-Based Milks
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Saturated fats: these bad guys of the nutrition world have given all fats a bad name, but in reality, you need some fats to be healthy. Dietary fats play an integral role in cell function that helps you absorb nutrients, produce hormones, and control cholesterol levels, inflammation, and blood pressure.
Dieticians tout Omega 3 fatty acids, in particular, for brain health. While studies show Omega 3s don’t improve cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s disease, research suggests it can reduce cognitive decline in other older adults.
You can find Omega 3s in fish, almost exclusively. However, there are some plant-based sources in the list below:
- Chia Seeds
- Flax Seeds
3 Diets Rich in Brain-Healthy Foods
Increasing how many antioxidants, B vitamins, and Omega 3s you eat is always a good idea. But for the greatest brain-boosting effects, a more drastic change may be necessary. You may need to transform the way you eat altogether.
You’ll see greater results if you build your diet entirely around these building blocks rather than adding these nutrients to an existing diet.
If you aren’t sure how to do that, the Mediterranean, DASH, and MIND diets give you some evidence-based guidance. Let’s explore them below.
1. The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is based on the food preferences of those living around the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece, Italy, and Spain. These cultures dine primarily on seafood, fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and olive oil.
You’ll notice that many of the hallmarks of a Western diet are absent from the Mediterranean diet. That means those who follow it rarely, if ever, eat red meat, processed foods, saturated fats, and refined oils and sugars.
Packed with those brain-friendly nutrients we explored earlier; the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on cognitive performance. One study shows that people who follow this diet experience slower cognitive decline in old age and have a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
2. The DASH Diet
Standing for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, DASH was originally created to control blood pressure and cholesterol levels. An unintended yet positive side effect of the diet is how it can improve the cognitive functions of older adults.
The DASH diet puts foods high in sodium in its crosshairs and eliminates saturated fats and added sugars like the Mediterranean diet before it. What’s leftover is whole grains, lean meats and poultry, fat-free dairy products, vegetables and fruit, beans, and nuts.
The DASH diet, when paired with physical activity, can help your mind stay sharp as you age. The closer one sticks to this diet over the long term maintains cognitive function in old age.
3. The MIND Diet
While the previous two diets improve cognition as an almost happy accident, the MIND diet is a lot more intentional about preserving brain function as you age. Known as the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, the MIND diet combines the previous two diets explored above.
The MIND diet encourages you to eat mostly vegetables, berries, nuts, beans, fish, poultry, and whole grains. As a result, the MIND diet cuts out saturated and trans fats found in butter or margarine, fried foods, baked goods, red meat, and cheese.
Does the thought of never eating a sweet or steak again sound challenging? Strict adherence isn’t necessary to protect your brain’s health. One study shows mostly following a MIND diet can still reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, so you may still maintain your cognitive health while indulging in a treat once in a while.
However, the closer you follow this diet, the better your chances are. According to one study, participants who had the highest adherence to the MIND diet had a 30–35% lower risk of cognitive impairment than others.
Can Your Diet Cure Dementia?
So far, we’ve only discussed how the food you eat may lower your risk of getting Dementia. But what if you’re already living with the disease? Can the choices you make in the kitchen turn back the clock on your diagnosis?
Food as medicine has its limits for people already living with Dementia. While research shows a balanced diet can slow cognitive decline in older adults, there’s no research to suggest it can cure this degenerative disease altogether.
At this point in time, there are no known cures for Dementia or Alzheimer’s. The best Dementia Care Toronto has to offer relies on medications and care plans to manage symptoms.
The Benefits of Eating a Healthy Diet After Diagnosis
Diet remains a vital part of any care plan for Dementia that values the health and quality of life of its Seniors.
Food is fuel, after all. It provides you and your loved ones with the energy to go about your daily lives, while supporting a strong immune system, cardiovascular system, and bone health.
Beyond these basics, a balanced diet comes with significant benefits for Seniors living with Dementia at every stage of the disease — early, middle, and late. Understanding these stages is one of the fundamentals of Dementia Care here at Integracare, as it helps us tailor a personalized care plan for each of our Clients.
In the early stages of Dementia, Seniors may experience issues with their memory, but these symptoms are usually mild. Most people can still live a reasonably independent lifestyle, and they may still cook for themselves.
In fact, we encourage our Clients to cook on their own, with a loved one, or with a Personal Support Worker. Making meal plans, experimenting with new recipes, and cooking every day can challenge your brain in the earliest stage of the disease.
Exercising your mind like this can help slow the progression of Dementia into the later stages, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada. You may slow it even further by following the MIND diet. Focus on brain-healthy fats, vegetables, and lean proteins while limiting how many processed foods and saturated fats you eat.
As the disease progresses into the middle and later stages, a Senior’s cognitive abilities will eventually decline until they are unable to follow a recipe, operate kitchen appliances safely, or even remember to eat.
Diet remains an important part of our Clients care in these later stages, as it prevents weight loss and undernutrition that can lead to falls and other health issues.
How to Help Loved Ones Eat a Balanced Diet
As the disease progresses, issues with memory, coordination, and mobility can complicate mealtimes. If you’re a Caregiver of a family member, we recommend you visit the Alzheimer’s Association for guidance on how to support your loved one’s independence while also making sure they’re getting the nutrition they need.
If mealtimes are getting too hard for you to manage on your own, we invite you to call us to learn about Integracare at-home health care, the best Dementia Care Toronto and Mississauga has to offer.
Our Caregivers provide a sliding scale of support to help you and your loved one manage the disease at every stage. While this may include companionship and coping strategies at the onset of symptoms, we can adapt our level of care as your health care needs evolve.
With a team of Registered Nurses (RNs), Registered Practical Nurses (RPNs), Personal Support Workers (PSWs), and Live-In Caregivers educated in all five facets of Dementia Care, we can aid with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), including meal preparation and eating.
We understand how important a healthy diet is for health, but more importantly, we recognize how food can spark a moment of joy in a Senior’s day. Delicious food isn’t just fuel for the body, it’s fuel for the soul.
We believe aging at home is about joyful living, and ensuring our Clients receive proper nutrition is just one of the ways we’re improving care for Seniors living with Dementia. Our home health care in Toronto and Mississauga provides the quality of life all Seniors deserve. To learn more about the best at home Dementia Care and how we can help, give us a call.