Brain Health and Nutrition
This month—observed as Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month—gives us an opportunity to take a look at Alzheimer’s disease, to explore some things we can do to cope when it occurs and perhaps to decrease the chance of it developing.
While the causes of Alzheimer’s are not fully understood, there are three known risk factors that increase the chance of developing it: age, family history and genetics. Age is the No. 1 risk factor; 11% of people age 65 and over and 38% of those 85 and over have Alzheimer’s. Family history is also a strong risk factor. Those with a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s have an increased chance of developing the disease. There are two types of genetic risk factors. One type increases the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s; the other directly causes the disease and guarantees that anyone who inherits one of these genes will develop Alzheimer’s.
Factors We Can Control
We clearly have no control over these risk factors, but research has begun to uncover some other factors that we can affect. One of the most promising is healthy aging—eating a nutritious diet, exercising, avoiding tobacco, staying engaged socially, and keeping our brain stimulated. Interestingly, nearly all of these also support heart health, which leads to the maxim, “What is good for the heart is good for the brain.”
Generally, people with Alzheimer's do not need a special diet. As with anyone, eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is important for overall health, which means (1) eating the right amounts of food, (2) consuming from all the food groups, and (3) preparing food in a nutritious way. The Alzheimer’s Association offers these tips:
• Provide a balanced diet with a variety of foods.
• Limit foods with high saturated fat and cholesterol; go light on fats that are bad for heart health.
• Cut down on refined sugars; substitute fruit or juice-sweetened baked goods.
• Limit foods with high sodium and use less salt; use spices or herbs as a substitute.
• Stay hydrated; encourage small quantities throughout the day.
Meal Preparation and Mealtime
As cognitive health declines—from mild cognitive decline to dementia—an individual with Alzheimer’s may be unable to carry on the necessary activities of daily living, which include meal planning, shopping and meal preparation. These tasks then must be taken up by a caregiver, who may be a family member, neighbor, or friend. If none of these is available, a licensed home care agency can provide these services; most will perform a free evaluation and provide recommendations for supportive services. Some mealtime tips:
• Limit distractions; serve meals in quiet surroundings.
• Keep the table setting simple; no distractions from the meal itself.
• Check the food temperature; people with Alzheimer’s may not be able to tell if something is too hot.
• Serve only one or two foods at a time; too many at once may be overwhelming.
• Be flexible to changing food preferences.
• Allow plenty of time for chewing and swallowing; mealtime may take an hour.
• Eat together; research has shown that people eat better when they eat with others
Much more information on food, eating and Alzheimer’s is available from the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org/alzheimers-food-eating.asp. To contact the Central Illinois Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, call the 24-hour hotline at (800) 272-3900 or go to www.alz.org/illinoiscentral.
Fresh Fruit and Vegetables – Available Locally
Spring in Peoria means the farmers markets are or will soon be open for business. What better way to find locally grown produce for healthy, nutritious meals? Two of the best known are the Peoria Farmers Market and the Riverfront Market; both are free to attend.
Peoria Farmers Market
The Peoria Farmers Market at the Metro features a wide variety of fresh, locally grown produce, flowers, pasta, and more.
2017 season: May 1 – October 31
Hours: Open every day; 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Location: Metro Centre - Peoria Farmers Market Pavilion, 4700 N. University Street, Peoria 61614
For more information: www.peoriafarmersmarket.com
Peoria's RiverFront Market features Illinois-grown produce, local meats, cheeses, fresh breads, herbs, flowers and a wide selection of local art.
2017 season: May 20 – September 30
Hours: Saturday only; 8:00 a.m. – noon
Location: 200 Block of Water Street, directly across from the Peoria Riverfront Museum
For more information: visitdowntownpeoria.com/peoria-riverfront-market
1. 2016 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, Alzheimer’s Association
2. Alzheimer’s Disease and Education and Referral Center, www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers
3. Food, Eating and Alzheimer’s, www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-food-eating.asp