Dementia and Nutrition – How a healthy diet can help

Dementia hit the headlines last year for becoming the leading cause of death in the UK, but unlike many of the other biggest killers, there is no cure. Many people are unaware how dementia can affect lives, with even basic information being confused. For example, many people don’t know that dementia itself is not actually a disease: it’s caused by a number of different conditions.

There’s no certain way to prevent dementia — however, by living a healthier lifestyle you can potentially decrease the risk of developing it. This includes anything from increasing exercise to reducing your intake of alcohol. Researchers have also turned their attention to a healthy lifestyle and diets, which led to the MIND diet being developed to help improve brain function and reduce dementia symptoms.

The MIND diet follows Mediterranean-style eating which is high in fruits, vegetables, cereals and legumes, along with oily fish and dairy. Meat, sugar and saturated fat is limited. According to the Alzheimer’s Society investigations have shown that “sticking to the diet more strictly might be associated with slower rates of decline in memory and thinking.”

You can easily incorporate this diet into your life by upping the amount of fruit, vegetables and fish you eat, especially leafy greens and berries, and limiting your consumption of red meat, cheese, fast food and sweets. You can also switch to cooking with olive oil instead of other cooking fats. You can buy frozen berries and store them in your freezer, along with leafy greens to make them readily available for smoothies and weekday dinners. Switch to brown rice and pasta instead of white and eat nuts instead of unhealthy snacks.

Dementia Strategy Consultant for Hallmark Care Homes, David Moore said: “It is a very exciting time in this field of research with a growing number of studies showing how important good nutrition is for people living with dementia.

“Although, we still don’t fully understand how diet is linked to the development and progression of dementia, we do know enabling people living with dementia to eat and drink well results in many physical, physiological and social benefits.”

The link between diet and dementia is interesting, however the NHS states that “while these results are encouraging, this type of study can only show an association between diet and improved brain function – it cannot prove causation.” This said, the results of the study did suggest “higher MIND diet scores were associated with slower mental decline.”

So, this diet might be able to reduce your risk of development of dementia and slow the rate of its progression. Maintaining a healthy diet when living with dementia is important, as many people can find their relationship with food changes as the condition progresses. If you or a loved one is struggling to eat, it’s vital to identify why — could medication be affecting appetite, are mealtimes overwhelming, or has chewing or swallowing become difficult? By identifying the trigger, you can help to manage the issue and prevent it from developing further.

It’s important to maintain a healthy diet even as these issues develop. For example, if chewing or swallowing is an issue tweak the food slightly. Instead of a fillet of salmon, flake it up into small manageable pieces, cook vegetables a little longer or mash them, and chop up leafy greens into smaller pieces once cooked. By making small adaptations, a healthy diet can continue even as eating becomes more difficult.

Group Hospitality Services Manager at Hallmark Care Homes, Rob Burcher said: “At Hallmark Care Homes our menus reflect the choice of the resident’s, their communities and local area.  Fresh fruit and vegetables as well as fish and vegetarian options feature on our menus at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“At snack times we always offer a healthier option, for example each afternoon we provide freshly baked cakes or a fresh fruit platter.  That way, each resident can make a choice based on their individual likes and dislikes.  We involve the residents in food forums and our teams hold monthly nutrition meetings between care and catering teams.”

Leading a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a healthy diet can be extremely rewarding, especially as research suggests it can benefit people living with dementia, among many other medical conditions. Below is one of our favourite recipes for salmon and couscous, which follows the Mediterranean diet principles. To enjoy this recipe you will need:

  • 2 skinless salmon fillets
  • Olive oil for frying and the dressing
  • 125g washed spinach
  • 50g peas
  • A handful of toasted sunflower seeds
  • 200g whole wheat couscous
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • Handful dill and parsley roughly chopped
  1. Cook the couscous per instructions
  2. Fry the salmon with the olive oil for 3-4 minutes on each side, until cooked
  3. Add the spinach and peas into a bowl and pour boiling water over, leave for three minutes, then drain
  4. Mix together the lemon, olive oil and wholegrain mustard to form a dressing. Season to taste.
  5. Gently combine the couscous, spinach, peas, dill, parsley and dressing together. Add more seasoning to taste and transfer to a serving plate, then flake the salmon over the top.
  6. Sprinkle the sunflower seeds over the top and serve.