Diet and Alzheimer: some daily guidelines

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Worldwide, nearly 36 million people suffer from Alzheimer or a related dementia. Although the diagnosis of Alzheimer is simpler and more reliable than it used to be, a diseased person can still need assistance to take meals. Meals are supposed to be relaxing moments; however, the caregiver can face difficulties. The person needing help can refuse to eat or be unable to use silverware by themselves. How can lunch, dinner or supper become enjoyable again? What food should be avoided and preferred?

Here are a few nutrition guidelines for Alzheimer patients.

How to make meals easier for Alzheimer patients

brainBefore we talk about plates’ content, it is important to underline that meals can be a delicate moment for caregivers who take care of an Alzheimer patient on a daily basis. Meals can become stressful and difficult: the patient may forget to eat, may be unable to use silverware, or may think they already ate. They can also forget to drink and fail to realize they are thirsty. The caregiver needs to be especially vigilant during very hot days.

Here is some advice to help a patient take their meal correctly:

  • Meals have to be taken in a calm atmosphere. The patient must be focused on the food in their plate. For instance, television and radio need to be turned off.
  • Just put what’s necessary on the table: only silverware needs to be on the table.
  • Check the meal’s temperature before serving it.
  • Only serve one food item at a time.
  • Take your time, chew properly. Use a heating plate if necessary.
  • Do not let the patient eat by themselves: take your meals with them.
  • Always encourage them to taste food. Whatever happens, do not force them to eat.

Keep patients as independent as possible

The patient also has to be as independent as possible while taking meals:

  • Prepare a lot of finger food. Alzheimer patients can have trouble using a knife, a fork or a spoon.
  • Do not over fill their glasses. Use straws and serve food in large bowls rather than plates.
  • Show what gestures to make so the patient can remain independent.

What food can prevent and slow the disease down?

Can the way we eat prevent Alzheimer from appearing? Several studies have raised that possibility. Just recently, nutritional intervention has appeared to be a valid strategy to prevent Alzheimer. Researchers have noticed that Alzheimer patients often lacked omega-3 and selenium as well as A, B12, C vitamins. To slow the disease, more vitamins and minerals should be taken before lesions permanently appear. To fight the ageing process of the brain, which is a catalyst for the Alzheimer disease, here are a few good nutritional strategies you may want to consider.

Food that can prevent the Alzheimer disease:

  1. Folate-rich food: spinach, beans, avocados, lentils, oranges, bananas > doctors have known for a long time that a lack of folate-rich food can hinder the execution of some cognitive tasks.
  2. Oily fish, nut and olive oil > according to the results of recent studies, these types of food could help diminish the risk of Alzheimer disease. One portion of salmon, herring or white tuna a week could hinder the decline of cognitive abilities by 10%.
  3. C and E vitamin-rich food: broccoli, strawberry, almond. > Food rich in antioxidants neutralise free radicals and hinder the risk of disease.
  4. Flavonoid-rich food and beverages: apples, blueberries, cranberries, grapefruit, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, garlic, onions, green tea. > Researchers have observed that people who drank fruit juice or ate vegetables three times a week had less chance to get Alzheimer disease.
  5. Curry powder > the rate of patients with Alzheimer disease is lower in India than in Western countries. The curcuma, a component of curry powder, may have something to do with it. This spice contains curcumin, which gives it its yellow colour and is actually a powerful antioxidant component. It is also anti-inflammatory and anti-amyoid.
  6. Red wine (with moderation of course!) > French researchers proved that drinking three glasses of wine of 125 ml a day can reduce the risk of Alzheimer disease by 75%. However, we do not recommend for patients to have more than one glass for women, and two glasses for men a day.

Additionally, according to a study of 500,000 people that was published in the British Medical Journal in September 2008, the Cretan diet could reduce by 13% the risk of developing a dementia like Alzheimer.

For the ones with the biggest appetite – because meals have to remain a pleasant moment – do not shy away from chocolate. According to researchers at Harvard University as well as Mars Incorporated, black chocolate high in cocoa (72 or 80%) to benefit as much as possible from flavonoids.

The benefits of coffee

Several studies showed that caffeine could reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer. To back them up, a test case was conducted on a group of 70 Alzheimer patients at an early stage who consumed 100 to 150 mg of caffeine a day (about 2 or 3 expressos).

David Blum, a researcher in Lille, explained: “The goal of this study is to establish the proof of the concept bases on cerebral imaging”.

 What to do in case of a loss of weight or appetite?

The nutritional objective is to prevent malnutrition from happening by encouraging patients to have a healthy balanced diet. Needless to say, nutritional care will be personalized according to everyone’s personal tastes and preferences as soon as the disease appears.

In case of a loss of appetite or weight, the diet has to be fractioned and preparations need to be enriched.

To enrich preparations, think of eggs, ham, butter, powder milk, concentrated milk, protein powders which you can find in pharmacies, etc…

You can integrate them to culinary preparations such as flans, béchamel sauce, quiches, soufflés, gratins, marinated vegetables, lasagne, custard and cream, rice pudding, pudding, milkshakes, semolina…

You can also consider homogenized products for children, nutritive mixes from businesses (creams, soups, fruit juices) or mixed preparations. The more there is ambulation, the more there will be energy expenditures.

Finally, look out for alert signs. React if the patient doesn’t finish meals, shows apparent disgust for meat, rejects, spits or plays with their food, if they eat inedible food… any kind of eating disorders requires availability and patience. You have to be able to adapt.

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