Ms. Chua Chun Sui, Dietitian
June 6, 2022
Alzheimer disease is a neurodegenerative disease that affects brain function, which leads to symptoms of dementia like poor memory and difficulty in learning new information. Overtime, the people with Alzheimer disease may have buildup of plaques and tangles as well as damage of neurons in their brain, and this can worsen their symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to note that Alzheimer’s disease typically progresses slowly in 3 general stages: early, middle, and late. Each individual may experience the symptoms differently. In general, most of the patients will have challenges in remembering things, experiencing confusion and mood swing, as well as demonstrating personality and behavioural changes. In severe cases, they might also lose awareness of recent events and basic physical abilities like eating and walking, which make it extremely hard for them to live independently and will require around-the-clock assistance with daily personal care.
Yes. As we know, normal aging process itself already changes one’s eating pattern. These could mean changes in sense of taste and smell, which affect their daily food consumption and overall health outcome. Other factors like denture problems, vision changes and reduced swallowing ability can also decrease their food and nutrient intake, partially due to the reason that they are unable to prepare and enjoy the foods like they used to be.
For those with Alzheimer’s disease, we know they will have to experience greater challenges in addition to the age-related changes. It is obvious that maintaining normal eating pattern and optimal nutrient intake are not easy to achieve as the Alzheimer’s disease progresses. If someone with Alzheimer’s disease have poor appetite for long period of time and severe unintentional weight loss, it is advisable to come and consult a dietitian that specializes in geriatric field. We will go through the assessment and discuss further on ways to improve their nutritional status.
Each person with Alzheimer disease may face different challenges, depending on the main reason they are not maintaining good nutrition. For example, swallowing problems can lead to choking and weight loss. So, when preparing meals for people with Alzheimer disease, try to modify the food texture by grinding the food, cutting them into bite-size pieces or simply serve food with soft texture such as porridge, scrambled egg or custard puddings.
If it comes to losing attention span and forgetting meal as soon as they are eaten or may not be eaten at all, the caregivers can try to minimize distractions at mealtime (for example, noise from radio or TV). Besides that, can try to offer 1 dish at a time and place food in small plate or bowl. So that, the person is not stressed out over too much variety. In addition, the caregiver also can keep a food diary to keep track if the patient has already eaten. It is also important to keep in mind that we should allow the person with Alzheimer disease to be as independent as possible during meals to keep their motor skills like eating. So, be ready to help, when needed.
A diet that would be helpful for preventing Alzheimer disease is called MIND diet, M-I-N-D, Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet. It is a combination of Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating patterns.
MIND diet is really focused on daily and weekly recommendations for specific foods and food groups. For example, it recommends having at least two servings of vegetables and berries in daily basics, while making sure to include at least one serving of green leafy vegetables every day.
Part of the reasons is because those food groups are great sources of antioxidants and phytochemicals that show protective effects on cells from free radicals. One of the nutrients that is found to help coping with aging is Vitamin E. Besides fruits and vegetables, natural sources of vitamin E also include almonds, and peanuts, and vegetable oils like sunflower/safflower oil
Additionally, MIND diet suggests consumption of protein-rich sources like fatty fish and poultry. As we know, fatty fish contain high amount of omega 3 fatty acid like EPA and DHA. Many research has shown the positive association between DHA and reduction of oxidative stress in brain, which may help with slowing the onset and progression of cognitive impairment, especially for those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Toasted / Steamed whole-wheat bread with scrambled egg, strawberries as sides
Stir-fried chicken, served with sauté pok choy and brown rice
Pan-Seared fish with pasta, served with roasted vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrot)
Yogurt with berries
Mixed berry smoothie
While it is unfortunate that we currently do not have cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the aging population can certainly focus on practicing healthy lifestyle choices to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s or delay its progression, such as healthy balanced diet like the MIND diet and physical activity. Whether you are 40 or 60 years old, it is never too late to start a healthier lifestyle, which can protect yourself and your family from the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.