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Nutrition and Dementia

Although eating is one of our favorite activities--both for social and nutritional reasons--there's surprisingly little information in the research about nutrition and dementia. There is some work being done on nutritional supplements such as B vitamins, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and the Mediterranean diet but results are spare and inconclusive--it's clear more research is needed.

A very good overview of nutrition and dementia is available from Alzheimer's Disease International in their 2014 report Nutrition and Dementia: A Review of Available Research. Key points include:

  • Undernutrition is common among people with dementia throughout the world.
  • Obesity in mid-life may be a risk factor to developing dementia in later life.
  • Mediterranean diet (with a high proportionate intake of cereals, fruits, fish and vegetables) may lower the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
  • Weight loss is a common problem for people with dementia and undernutrition can and should be avoided.
  • In care homes, attention to staff training and mealtime environment can lead to significant enhancement in calorie intake among residents.

The last point seems particularly important. Assisted living, nursing homes, and to some extent adult day care organizations are so understaffed and overworked that meals become a chaotic chore to be completed at an assigned time and at the convenience of the workers rather than the clients. This is so contrary to how we experience meals throughout our lives that often meals become a dreaded chore, neither enjoyed by staff nor clients. Upon reflection, it's odd that we allow this to continue. Nutrition, socialization, and the pleasure we associate with eating are all but abolished in facilities that care for older adults with dementia. It's time for this to change!

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