Nutrition and Alzheimer's Disease
Healthy eating is a part of a general healthy lifestyle, but for those with Alzheimer’s disease, it can be especially important. As the disease progresses and feeding is impaired, there are different concerns to think about, but even in the early stages, a healthy diet and good nutrition are good for brain and body. Keep in mind any other medical conditions an individual may have, as things like high cholesterol, heart issues, diabetes, or hypertension all require certain dietary guidelines to be followed.
Before any big dietary changes are made, a doctor should be consulted to ensure the diet is safe and appropriate, and if there are any considerations to keep in mind. Sometimes patients might be on medications that interact with certain foods, so this is a consideration as well.
A heart-healthy diet low in saturated fats may be particularly helpful for those with Alzheimer’s disease, since there are associations between heart disease and the risk of dementia and related disorders.1 Diets that are heart-healthy include the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet.1 The MIND diet, a hybrid Mediterranean-DASH diet, is also being considered for preventing cognitive changes. Components of these diets include1:
- Low saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol
- Lots of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy; minimal intake of red meat and sodium
- Whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts
- Consume healthy fats like olive oil
- Replace salt with herbs and spices
Other general dietary guidelines to think about for a person with Alzheimer’s disease include2:
- Making sure a variety of foods are being eaten, not just the same thing over and over
- Avoiding or minimizing fried or high-fat foods
- Minimize use of salt
- Staying hydrated with eight 8oz glasses of water each day, if possible
- Limit sugars
- Incorporating high-fiber foods into the diet
Some vitamins may also be consumed as part of a healthy diet, but speak with a doctor before starting any vitamins or supplements. Supplements such as vitamin E and omega-3 oils have been shown to not be effective in preventing cognitive decline. In fact, some supplements can be dangerous or prevent some medications from working.
General dietary considerations
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may not always have the proper judgment for choosing healthy foods, remember when they last ate, or the ability to properly cook healthy meals, so it’s helpful to have a partner or caregiver make sure they get proper nutrition. If the person is in the early stages of the disease and lives alone, consider calling them to remind them about mealtimes or helping them buy prepared foods that require minimal cooking or preparation.
Another option is a meal delivery service like Meals on Wheels, which provides nutritious meals and safety checks to elderly individuals who live alone. It’s also crucial that the person’s feeding and swallowing abilities are taken into consideration and adaptations are made in order to assist them in being as independent as possible with meal times and feeding, and to ensure they are able to consume the nutrition and calories being offered.
Even as Alzheimer’s progresses, try to include the person as much as possible in making mealtime decisions.3 Ask them what they’d like you to pick up at the store, or what they would like to eat or drink. Give them choices, if possible. Mealtimes can be hard for those with Alzheimer’s disease, so making things a little easier can make a big difference3:
- Give the person ample time to eat and don’t rush them
- Follow a reliable routine, ie, eat at certain times with consistent place settings
- Serve favorite foods
- Minimize surrounding distractions like television or radio
- Provide assistive devices or adaptations when needed
In the later stages of Alzheimer’s, meal preparation may not be safe for the person and eating may need to be supervised to make sure they don’t choke or to ensure they’ve eaten enough and had adequate fluids. If there are any notable changes in eating or drinking habits, talk with the person’s doctor. There may be something else going on that needs to be addressed.