Counting Calories and Meals in Dementia/Alzheimer Patients

Just like a car needs fuel to function, the food we eat is the fuel for our bodies. Good quality nutritional food is vital for the overall health of the human body. What we eat has significant effects on our well-being. Different food groups may benefit the body and mind in different ways. There are specific food groups that can aid in maintaining the health of the brain. Since Alzheimer’s is incurable, slowing down the symptoms is the objective of medical assistants and caregivers. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s can be slowed down by several lifestyle changes. It has been found that what we eat can play a major role in tapering the cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients.

What to Eat in Dementia?

Research conducted by Rush University Medical Centre aiming at reducing the risks of Alzheimer’s concluded a diet plan named the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay). Nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D., and coworkers at the Medical Center conducted the study which shows that those who strictly followed the MIND diet lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53 percent and delayed cognitive decline by 7.5 years. Even those who followed the guidelines only moderately-well lowered their Alzheimer’s risk by 35 percent. Hence, dietary changes can help reducing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

The MIND diet is a mix of two regimes being the ‘Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)’ and the Mediterranean diet. The diet recommends cutting down on red meat, cheese and sugar. It encourages eating vegetables, whole grain, fish, nuts, etc. DASH diet encourages people to eat foods low in sodium helping to keep high blood pressures and at bay. As the name is self-explanatory, the diet focuses on food intake that helps reduce hypertension. High blood pressure and hypertension are causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Mediterranean diet has been found to reduce the risks of getting Alzheimer’s which are higher if a person follows a western diet. It promotes eating whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and lean protein.

Lifestyle changes immensely reduce the risks of Alzheimer’s. Ensuring a nutritious dietary plan for Alzheimer’s patients by incorporating the MIND diet may help in slowing down the cognitive decline. The diet recommends eating the following foods daily:

  • Green leafy vegetables preferably or also vegetables in general;
  • Whole grains;
  • Poultry;
  • Fish;
  • Olive oil;
  • Nuts;
  • Beans;
  • Berries.

It suggests avoiding a few food groups that are:

  • Fried food;
  • Fatty foods like butter, cheese, etc.;
  • Red meat;
  • Sweets.

Meals comprisingbalanced portions of the above-mentioned food groups may reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Cardiovascular health is known to be linked to the health of the brain. The better the heart, the healthier the brain would be. Avoiding unhealthy fats, sweets, food items that trigger high blood pressures or hypertension is the key in decelerating the mental decline in patients.

How to make mealtimes attractive for the patients?

Loss of appetite is a common concern in Alzheimer’s patients. Using the recommended food items to make meals that might interest the patients may help in making mealtimes enjoyable. Patients may suffer from loss of appetite because of the following reasons:

  • Being unable to recognize food: Patients may be unable to recognize the food items they are given to eat resulting in a loss of interest in the food.
  • Medications: Certain medicines may affect a patient’s appetite.
  • Reduced sense of smell and taste: Loss of the senses of smell and taste may make the patients dislike the food.
  • Lack of physical exercise may also reduce appetite since the more a person stays active, the more calories they burn.

Following tips can be followed to counter the lost appetite and to make mealtime more engaging for the patients:

  1. In later stages of the disease, patients may be distracted by too much information since their abilities to process information declines. Avoiding distractions during mealtimes may help in directing the focus only towards eating. Similarly, keeping minimum things on the table and simpler meals with one or two food items in one go, will make it easier for the patient to understand.
  2. Reduced senses of taste, smell, touch, and sight can hinder the patient’s ability to function appropriately around mealtime. Making sure the food is not too hot may be important since patients may not be able to differentiate. Also, making sure the patient can distinguish between the table from the plate by ensuring different solid colors for both.
  3. As the disease progresses, caregivers should encourage independence during mealtimes to ensure maximum use of the patient’s abilities. Try giving utensils that are easier to handle such as spoons with bigger handles or scooper bowls instead of plates. Eating independently may make the mealtimes more attractive and engaging. Finger foods such as nuggets, sandwiches, steamed veggies can also be given since they are easier to pick and eat.
  4. It should be made sure that the food items given pose no choking or health hazard. Food items that are easier to swallow and chew, should be given. Food items should be preferably by given after grinding or chopping them in bite-size easily chewable portions.
  5. Changing preferences should also be taken into account. Patients may want to eat something different or may lose liking to something they enjoyed earlier.
  6. The person should be given enough time to eat their meals comfortably. They should be joined in on meals and assistance can be provided by showing them how it is done.
  7. A decrease in appetite should be counteracted by making meals that grasp the interest of the patient, increasing physical activity or reducing meal portions or increasing the number of times meals are given per day. If no signs are shown of improvement, the assistance of a medical professional should be sought and medications for lost appetite can be prescribed. Here are some Tips to Encourage Someone with Dementia to Eat More.

The food we put inside of us has long-lasting impacts on our well-being. Ensuring the intake of a diet high in nutritional value can help Alzheimer’s patients ease off some of the symptoms.