General Health

Dietary Decisions to Defend against Dementia Complications

Our occasional forgetfulness can become a matter of serious concern if suddenly such incidences start increasing with each passing day. The situation can become more complicated if it gets accompanied by a few more odd behaviours like becoming lost in familiar places or even at home, losing time perception, feeling blank while trying to remember something, having difficulty expressing feelings to loved ones, needing help to perform daily routine work and having trouble walking. All of these are not normal or due to a stressful hectic routine. These can be early silent signals of a progressive irreversible disease called “Dementia“.

The World Health Organization reports that every year 7.7 million new cases of dementia are diagnosed and projected that by 2050 there will be over 100 million people living with dementia.

What is Dementia?

This can be described as a group of symptoms including memory loss, confusion, mood changes and difficulty with day-to-day tasks (Alzheimer’s Research UK 2014). As per WHO, it is a ‘disease of the brain, usually of a chronic nature, in which there is a disturbance of multiple higher cortical functions, including memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language and judgement occurs World Health Organization (WHO, 2007).

Dementia causes a high burden of suffering for patients, their families, and society. For patients, it leads to increased anxiety, depression and dependency and complicates other comorbid conditions. For families, it also leads to anxiety, depression, and increased time spent caring for loved ones.

How do stages of dementia affect mental functioning?

Mild cognitive impairment-

  • Consistent slight forgetfulness
  • Partial recollection of events
  • Slight difficulty with time relationships, solving problems and social activities
  • A bit low interest in hobbies, home responsibilities and intellectual activities
  • Mild anxiety due to denying arising mental complications

Early Dementia

  • Moderate memory loss and difficulty remembering recent events
  • Moderate difficulty managing and sensing time and feeling disoriented in new places
  • Difficulty solving problems and unable to function independently
  • Withdrawal behaviour due to denial feelings and emotional blunting

Mild to moderate Dementia

  • Severe memory loss and not being able to retain present memories
  • Difficulty handling time and feeling disoriented most of the time
  • Not able to solve problems and fully dependent on caregivers
  • Start feeling incontinent, develops delusions, anxiety, agitation and repetitive obsessive behaviour

Severe Dementia

  • Severe memory loss, only able to retain fragments and finally becomes mute
  • Highly disoriented and unable to make judgements
  • No independent action
  • Highly inconsistent and develops disturbing delusions

How does nutrition affect dementia development?

The real cause of dementia is still unknown. However, research indicates a few causes like Alzheimer’s disease, gender, genetic family history, malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies, advancing age, smoking, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypertension and obesity.

Nutrition plays a very important role in the onset, recurrence and recovery of dementia. It is one of the crucial modifiable lifestyle changes which can help combat dementia. A healthy balanced diet positively influences many chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and dementia.

An unhealthy diet like regular consumption of calorie-dense processed food, deep-fried red meat, sugar-rich empty-calorie drinks or energy drinks increases the chance of before time neurodegeneration. A diet rich in leafy greens, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, improves life expectancy and offers protection against diseases like dementia.

Fats

Regular consumption of bad fat like saturated fatty acids and trans-fat-rich foods increases the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) level, causing atherosclerosis and promoting the onset of vascular dementia. A high intake of saturated fatty acid also increases the risk of early onset of mild cognitive impairment. Good fat like omega 3 fatty acid from fish helps reduce oxidative stress-related damage to the brain.

Micronutrients 

Nutrients like copper, selenium, manganese and zinc help in many body functions including brain activities. Antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin E help to build the body’s immunity to fight infection and also lowers the risk of dementia. Folic acid is essential for homocysteine metabolism and is directly linked to a lower risk of dementia. As per scientific research, all these nutrients offer a protective shield effect against neurodegeneration.

Curcumin (Turmeric)

This newly researched substance shows promising results in treating and preventing dementia.

Cinnamon 

Cinnamon as a condiment has been offering various health benefits such as antioxidant, antimicrobial and antiviral effects. Hence helps boost immunity.

Conclusion 

Evidence suggests that a change in eating behaviour may delay the onset of dementia, possibly by several years. A balanced dietary pattern and easy to follow healthy lifestyle approach should be followed throughout the lifecycle to promote stable cognitive health and reduce the risk of dementia. Unhealthy and poor eating habits should immediately be replaced with a simple dietary regime. More alertness and proactiveness should be offered towards mental health and its minute complications by developing a real healthy connection with self and loved ones rather than indulging in brain-draining digital virtual addictions.

Reference

  1. Alzheimer’s Disease International · NUTRITION and dementia
  2. Clinical Nutrition 34 (2015) 1052e1073
  3. Turk J Med Sci (2015) 45: 1020-1025
  4. J Nutr Health Aging. 2021;25(5):590-592
  5. BMJ 2020;369:m2269

Author

Aparna Das Parmar

Aparna Parmar has over 8.5 years of rich experience in the field of nutrition and healthcare and is currently a corporate nutritionist.

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