Per the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.4 million individuals in the United States live with Alzheimer’s and it is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. In most Alzheimer’s cases, the disease may be a result of many factors interacting with one another, including age, genetics, environment, lifestyle and other medical conditions.
Unchangeable factors such as age, race, gender, family history, brain injury and genetics may go against one’s chances of developing the disease but changeable factors such as diet, physical activity, sleep and high blood pressure can be changed to help reduce risk.
During the February Dementia Care Network All-Committee meeting, Beth Pahmeier, owner and operator of Harvest Home Assisted Living explained, “Many experts are convinced that poor lifestyle and diet are leading contributors to Alzheimer’s, just as they are for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The brain works around the clock; therefore, it needs enormous amounts of energy and a constant supply of fuel and nutrients.”
Damage to the brain, such as inflammation, can easily occur as it works all day. Supplying the brain with the proper tools, like nutrients, may help reduce damage. Fuel and nutrients that the brain needs are protein, carbohydrates and fats distributed throughout the day. Protein is essential for the brain to function and it helps to build and repair brain tissue.
Specifically, proteins help build DNA, hormones and other brain chemicals. It is important to distribute protein intake throughout the day to maximize the use of proteins’ role in helping build the brain’s functions. Unfortunately, the average American skips breakfast or has no protein with breakfast and then eats too much protein in the evening.
Carbohydrates are the body and brain’s primary source of energy. Fruits, vegetables, cereals, rice and beans are examples of carbohydrates. Healthy fats are important for absorption of vitamins and minerals and about 60 percent of brain matter consists of fats. Fatty fish, walnuts, corn, soybean and flax seeds consist of healthy fats to help regulate inflammation within the brain.
So, what kind of diet could you follow to reap the rewards of a healthier self and reduce the risk of dementia? The MIND diet (Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) was created to help slow the loss of brain function that can happen as people age.
The MIND diet has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia by 53 percent when followed closely, according to a study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
The MIND diet is a combination of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which is a low sodium diet focusing on vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy foods, and the Mediterranean diet, which is based on Italian, Greek and Spain’s food cultures of olive oil use and light grains. With these diet tips and examples of good foods to enjoy, why not take the chance and eat healthily?
The Sheboygan County Activity and Nutrition Coalition, as well as the Dementia Care Network, want to encourage our community to try new, healthy foods to help reduce the risk of dementia and improve quality of life.
Erica Gollhardt is the director of admissions and marketing for Atrium Health & Senior Living of Plymouth.