Dementia and Diet

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

What is dementia?

The definition of dementia is the progressive decline in cognitive abilities associated with mental impairment that alters at least two of the following functions:

· Thought processing

· Memory

· Language

· Judgment

· Behaviour

Most people don't realise that dementia is often the result of another underlying disease or traumatic injury to the head.

The degree of damage and severity of symptoms in patients with dementia vary significantly, and can offer quite a challenge to medically diagnose.

In this article, we will briefly mention the potential causes of dementia, the weight issues that arise as the disease progresses, including the important role of nutrition at that time.

The primary causes of dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of conditions affecting the brain. There are over 200 subtypes of dementia, the most common or famililar are: Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia.

While many causes of dementia are well-documented, researchers are still unveiling more discrete contributors to this debilitating condition.

As a consequence of the etiological diversity of dementia, prevention remains the best possible approach to reduce your risk.

With that being said, there is only so much you can do to prevent neurodegenerative diseases, which is why you need to concentrate on the lifestyle modifications that are under your control, such as nutrition.

Risk factors for weight loss

Weight loss is important to identify and deal with as soon as possible to prevent malnutrition. Being malnourished can increase the risk of infection leading to longer hospital stays, frequent falls, the break down of skin leading to pressure ulcers or slow wound healing, poor self esteem, stress and anxiety. See the list below to help identify possible problems that can contribute to weight loss:

  • Swallowing difficulties - excessive drooling, choking or coughing on food or drink

  • Poor oral or dental condition - thrush (white coating on the tongue) or loose teeth or decay

  • Excessive thirst and urination - indication of poor diabetes management

  • Behavioural issues - hiding food, spitting or spilling

  • Increased activity - excess wandering, using more energy but food intake remains the same

  • Poor appetite, reduce portion sizes, taste changes

  • Memory - skips meals, thinks already eaten a meal

  • Additional medical conditions that use a lot of energy such as COPD

  • Changes in medications - side effects

  • Low mood

Visual clues of weight loss

If you are unable to weigh your loved one or the person you care for then take a look at some visual clues below:

  • Loose watch, jewellery, clothes, dentures

  • Low mood, lack of interest, tearful

  • Pressure sores

  • Weakness and frequent falls

  • Self neglect


Below is a list of strategies that you can put in place while waiting to see a specialist dietitian if further help is needed:

  • Food fortification - add cream butter cheese to meal

  • Small frequent meals and snacks throughout the day

  • Encourage plenty of fluids

  • Give food on a colourful plate - easier for them to see the food if their eyesight is poor

  • Create a stress free environment

  • Cater to food preferences and not what is thought 'better for them'

  • Give a multi vitamin if food preferences are limited

Dietary studies to reduce the risk of dementia?

In a 2016 comprehensive study, researchers analysed the role of nutrition in protecting the brain from dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.

The major foods that showed promising neuroprotective properties were vitamin E, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids.

It is suggested that the worst foods to consume if predisposed to dementia are saturated fatty acids from processed food.

When the researchers observed the effects of Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets on the brain, they found no real changes in the predisposition to neurological deterioration.

Interestingly, a relatively new diet known as the MIND (Mediterranean–DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet showed impressive neuroprotection as it took the best traits of each diet to tailor them for the brain’s needs.

Finally, researchers emphasised the role of designing individualised dietary plans for people at risk to compensate for any potential dietary deficiencies and provide the body with all the nutrients it needs to fight these ailments.

Help and advice

Reach out to us Here @ Core Nutrition Specialist to arrange an appointment with one of our dietitians to give guidance on nutrition and fluid to optimise their diet at this challenging time. A more specialist diet may be indicated if there is swallowing issues, or dietary changes you have made are making no difference. You may need tailored advice to improve their intake or, nutritional supplementation if they are refusing to eat.

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