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Best Foods for Dementia Patients to Eat

By Melissa LeeMay 13, 2022
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Numerous scientific studies continue to show that a person’s diet may play a role in slowing cognitive decline. Research into plant nutrients demonstrates how such foods can positively affect overall health and even help treat specific diseases like dementia. Foods that help with dementia usually decrease inflammation and support brain health, which is important for the continued wellness of those with dementia-related illnesses.

Maintaining proper nutrition through foods good for dementia is a critical part of a good dementia care regime. As always, check with your loved one’s medical care team before making dietary changes or introducing new foods.


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Foods that help with dementia

Best foods for dementiaThose researching Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia should spend time exploring the connection between diet and brain changes. The best foods for dementia patients to eat typically have beneficial effects on the brain and the person’s overall health.

“It’s possible that eating a certain diet affects biological mechanisms, such as oxidative stress and inflammation that underlie Alzheimer’s. Or, perhaps diet works indirectly by affecting other Alzheimer’s risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease,” as explained by the National Institute on Aging.

Learn more about these nine types of foods that help with dementia and how to incorporate them into daily meals and senior-friendly recipes.

Beans, nuts, seeds, and legumes

Plant proteins and legumes offer brain benefits to older adults looking to support their memory. Legumes, especially, offer important vitamins and minerals essential for optimal brain health. Vitamin B6 – commonly found in legumes, tofu, and soy-based foods – helps the body regulate sleep, appetite, and moods.

Nuts are another one of the best foods for dementia patients to eat. For example, recent research indicates that a diet rich in walnuts can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and may delay its onset. Eating more nuts remains connected to better brain function, as people who eat them over the long term show better cognition in clinical studies. Beans, nuts, seeds, and legumes can be great sources of vitamin E and minerals like magnesiummanganesemolybdenum, and potassium — all of which support a variety of complex bodily functions, including nerve health, proper metabolism, and essential chemical reactions in the brain.

You may consider adding the following foods that help with dementia-related illnesses, based on nutritional daily value (DV) according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

The DVs, such as those above, help caregivers understand the nutrients available in foods good for dementia and how they relate to a healthy diet.

Berries

Berries are one of the best foods for dementia patients to eat, as they provide the perfect mix of health benefits and taste-bud-tickling sweetness. For example, neurodegeneration — the loss of structure or function of the brain and nervous system — may be delayed or prevented by eating blueberries.

Recent scientific studies on berries and neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia, offer solid evidence that many types of berries can improve brain function. New research on elderberries is particularly exciting, as there is growing evidence that they can prevent and even treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Take advantage of foods that help with dementia by introducing the following options into your loved one’s meals:

  • Elderberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Black currants
  • Mulberries
  • Strawberries

Colorful fruits and vegetables

The expression, “eat the rainbow,” remains popular for people of all ages, and for good reason. Consuming a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables provides an array of nutrients that promote optimal health.

By following a “healthy rainbow” plan for eating, one can ensure they are eating a more balanced diet full of all sorts of foods good for dementia. Older adults who eat three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits have a lower risk of dementia as they are getting an array of important nutrients critical to brain health. “Eating the rainbow” can help seniors eat enough vegetables and fruits each day without repeating the same foods over and over, ensuring a range of nutrients are included in the diet.

The following are examples of “rainbow” eating, with DVs of vitamins and minerals from the NIH:

Cocoa

Did you ever imagine that chocolate would be on a list of foods good for dementia? The cocoa flavanols – anti-inflammatory antioxidants – support brain function. Often found in high quantities in dark chocolate, cocoa flavanols remain connected to improvements in memory and attention.

Coffee and tea

Coffee and tea may not be what comes to mind when you think of foods good for dementia. However, coffee and its caffeine content provide benefits for those with mild cognitive impairment. Even more, scientific clinical studies show that a delayed onset of dementia in seniors may be related to caffeine and coffee intake.

Tea offers a specific benefit for those with dementia. Tea helps reduce oxidative stress, and oxidative stress plays a clear role in dementia according to current scientific research. Many foods good for dementia feature anti-inflammatory properties that target oxidative stress and improve overall health. Manganese is also an important mineral found in tea. As mentioned previously, manganese helps the body maintain normal bodily functions.

Fish

Eating fish may also be connected to slower cognitive decline over time. This may be because fish remains a rich source of the following vitamins and minerals that are essential to the human body:

  • Manganese. The body utilizes this mineral to metabolize amino acids and other substances for healthy bodily functions.
  • Retinoids. Sometimes referred to as vitamin A, retinoids assist in maintaining the health of the body’s tissues.
  • Vitamin B3. This vitamin is essential for the health of the brain and nervous system.
  • Vitamin B6. The vitamin helps convert tryptophan into niacin and serotonin. It is key for healthy sleep, appetite, and moods.
  • Vitamin B12. This vitamin assists the body’s nervous system by protecting nerve cells and promoting their growth.
  • Vitamin D. As an essential vitamin, vitamin D helps maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus for optimal health.

As a potentially beneficial food for dementia patients, fish can add important nutrients to a diet by including it in meals:

Leafy green vegetables

This type of vegetable is rich in substances that benefit those with dementia, such as folate and lutein. Consuming one serving per day may reduce the decline of the nervous system in an aging person.

Older adults can also get the following vitamins and minerals from these leafy green vegetables:

  • Vitamin B2. Sometimes called riboflavin, this vitamin remains essential for healthy skin, hair, blood, and brain cells.
  • Calcium. This mineral helps the body’s nervous system by helping transmit nerve impulses throughout the body.
  • Vitamin E. This vitamin plays the role of an antioxidant in the body. Diets enriched with this vitamin may prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

The following foods good for dementia are examples of the essential vitamins and minerals one can get from leafy greens:

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Probiotic foods

This category of food can help dementia patients properly digest and absorb nutrients from food, like tryptophan — a necessary amino acid for serotonin and melatonin production that dementia patients are known to have trouble absorbing. Studies continuously show that consuming multispecies probiotics may positively influence gut bacteria and promote tryptophan absorption in those with cognitive decline.

“They [researchers] are finding that the gut microbiome — the community of viruses, bacteria and other microbes in the digestive system — may influence the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” as outlined by the National Institute on Aging.

Some probiotic foods good for dementia that you can find readily available in grocery stores include the following:

    • Yogurt
    • Kefir
    • Kombucha
    • Sauerkraut
    • Cottage cheese

Lion’s Mane mushroom

While Lion’s Mane mushroom has historically been associated with traditional Chinese medicine, it appears to offer neurological benefits to older adults based on recent scientific research. Lion’s Mane mushroom promotes healthy functions in the nervous system and provides anti-inflammatory properties. Edible mushrooms, in general, offer vitamins and minerals that are valuable for cognitive health. These foods good for dementia are rich in the following vitamins:

  • Vitamin B3. This vitamin, sometimes referred to as niacin, plays a role in maintaining a healthy brain and nervous system.
  • Vitamin B5. As a part of a healthy diet, this type of vitamin supports the production of neurotransmitters throughout the body.

For example, a 1/2 cup of cooked shitake mushrooms offers 52% of the DV of vitamin B5, according to the NIH.

Dementia-friendly meals in memory care

The role of nutrition and vitamins in dementia care is essential to the overall health and wellness of your loved one. It’s also important for dementia patients to supplement to boost absorption of the essential nutrients they are deficient in. Check out the following article for a dementia-specific supplement and vitamin list: Best Vitamins for Dementia Patients.

With so much information, it can be difficult for a caregiver to meet the nutritional needs of those with dementia, especially as their disease progresses. Many senior living communities, including memory care communities, have on-staff experts or hire nutritional consultants to offer dietary services tailored to residents with dementia. On-site or catered meals in memory care facilities may even feature some of the best foods for dementia patients to eat according to recent scientific research.

If you would like help with your loved one’s long-term care, reach out to a Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom. Their free services can assess your loved one’s situation and help you locate memory care options in your local area.

Sources

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The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. The recommendations contained herein are based on the opinions of the author. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

Author
Melissa Lee

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