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How Does Diet Affect Dementia?

We often think of improving our diet as a way to get physically healthier — but it also has profound effects on brain health and mental wellness.

Although there is no one food someone can eat to improve their ability to think or remember, overall dietary patterns are significant factors in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Pegasus Senior Living | Seniors eating a brain healthy breakfast
An evidence-based, brain-healthy diet makes a meaningful difference in preventing and combating the effects of dementia.

Effects of Food Choices on Dementia Risk

Here are some ways the types of foods older adults eat can affect dementia risk and management:

  • Nutrient intake: A diet high in nutrients like antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins (particularly B vitamins), and minerals (such as folate) is associated with a reduced risk of dementia. These nutrients aid in protecting the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation, which are involved in the development of dementia.
  • Blood sugar control: Diets high in refined sugars and carbohydrates can lead to spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, which may contribute to cognitive decline and an increased risk of dementia. On the other hand, a diet that helps maintain stable blood sugar levels, such as one low in refined sugars and rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, and healthy fats, may be preventative.
  • Heart health: What’s good for the heart is often good for the brain. Diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease, a known risk factor for cognitive decline. Conversely, diets low in saturated fats and cholesterol and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins promote heart health.
  • Inflammation: Certain foods, such as those high in trans fats and processed ingredients, can lead to inflammation in the body, including the brain. Chronic inflammation is believed to play a role in the development of dementia. A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods — such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish — helps reduce inflammation and its long-term effects on the brain.
  • Gut health: Emerging research suggests that the gut microbiome may influence brain health and cognition. A diet that promotes a healthy balance of gut bacteria, such as one high in fiber and fermented foods, may support brain function.
  • Weight management: Obesity in midlife is linked to an increased risk of dementia later in life. A healthy diet that supports weight management, along with regular physical activity, can reduce this risk.

The Ideal Diets for Dementia

In summary, a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, while minimizing processed foods, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats can play a crucial role in reducing the risk of dementia and supporting overall brain health.

Some dementia-friendly diets follow specific frameworks. The most notable are:

  • Mediterranean diet: The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the traditional eating habits of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, particularly Greece and Italy. It emphasizes plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, with olive oil as the primary fat source. It also includes moderate amounts of fish and poultry, with low consumption of red meat and sweets. The Mediterranean diet is known for its variety of health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease, improving metabolic health, and enhancing longevity.
  • MIND Diet: The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. It focuses on vegetables, especially leafy greens, berries, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, and olive oil — all while limiting red meat, sweets, cheese, butter/margarine, and fast/fried food. The MIND diet is specifically designed to support brain health and has been even more consistently linked to a reduced risk of dementia, like in this recent study.

With Mediterranean nutritional principles in mind, chefs at our Pegasus Senior Living communities for our signature Connections memory care program prepare nutritious and enjoyable meals for seniors each day.

Connections: An Integrated Approach to Dementia Care

Food is far from all that matters in any aspect of life! Incorporating the body, mind, and spirit into the way family members and caregivers approach any type of dementia is especially valuable for seniors living with memory loss. That’s what we do in Connections.

At the core of our philosophy is neuroplasticity — the evidence-based concept that our brains can adapt and strengthen over time, even later in life.

Brain-Healthy Menus

We focus on wellness and healthy brain function through carefully designed menus full of nutrient-rich whole foods that support brain health. They provide essential nutrients and antioxidants to help protect against cognitive decline for an effective anti-dementia diet.

Dementia-Friendly Activities

In addition to nutrition, we integrate physical exercise along with mentally stimulating and socially engaging activities.

Pegasus’ VP of Health and Wellness, Dr. Sandra Petersen, incorporates neuroplasticity into our Connections program’s activities through the motto Connect, Move, Learn.

  • Seniors here connect by forming emotional bonds with each other and caregivers. Pegasus intentionally creates an environment where social connections thrive, which is especially important for residents with dementia. We have fun celebrating holidays and reminiscing about positive memories together.
  • We encourage residents to move through purposeful physical activities. Scientifically endorsed methods, such as having residents stretch their arms to the beat of the music in our SingFit program, aid in rebuilding neural pathways.
  • Seniors learn by enjoying group activities that encourage cognitive growth, rebuilding and retrain the brain. Some examples include taking turns reading aloud from books, getting help with puzzles, and participating in art therapy classes.

Other types of spiritual support through mental health counseling further enhance the overall well-being of residents with dementia.

This holistic approach addresses various aspects of a person’s health and can contribute to improved quality of life and cognitive function.

We’ve Navigated Memory Loss, Too.

If you’re struggling to confidently make nutritional choices for your loved one with dementia, our knowledgeable care team is here to help. Get in touch with a community near you for more information.

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