National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month

Have you ever visit a nursing home lately?  Have you notice that there are more senior citizens are being diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease?  In a Gallup poll commissioned by the Alzheimer’s Association found that 1 in 10 Americans said they had a family member with Alzheimer’s and 1 in 3 knew someone with the disease . There is an estimated 4.5 million Americans that are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, which has more than doubled since 1980.  It is expected to grow as many as to 16 million by the middle of the 2050.  American’s are expected to spend $ 91 billion with more than 50% of these costs devoted to caregiver alone for Alzheimer’s disease.  With these statistics we should be very concern of the proper care that these residents are receiving and especially for the caregivers.

Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive neurological disease characterized by the loss of mental ability severe enough to interfere with normal activities of daily living, lasting at least six months and not present from birth. Alzheimer’s gradually destroys a person’s memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments and communication. As it advances, the person may experience changes in personality and behavior, such as anxiety, suspiciousness or agitation, as well as delusions or hallucinations.   Alzheimer’s usually occurs in older age of over 65 and is marked by a decline in cognitive function.  Unfortunately, the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown but there is current research that has established that possible risk factors for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes and high cholesterol may play a role in the development of this disease.  Elevated plasma total homocysteine may also be risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease.

Caring for a family member, friend or patient with Alzheimer’s is very difficult especially providing nutritious meals and snacks.  Frequently Alzheimer patients cannot express or identify that they are hungry or full.  They also have a problem of getting the right amount of fluids or foods with certain vitamins and minerals.  Alzheimer’s patients tend to have poor nutritional status resulting from weight loss or gain, poor-fitting dentures, problems swallowing, changes in eating behavior, overeating, medication, loss of appetite and dehydration.  This disease can accentuate and accelerate theses changes resulting nutritional problems.

 Why would anyone want to concern himself or herself of nutrition with having Alzheimer’s disease?

Even though there is not special diet required for people with Alzheimer’s disease – unless they have another condition, such as diabetes, that requires a particular diet—eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is extremely beneficial.  With the proper diet, our bodies work more efficiently, we have more energy, and medications will work properly.    As the Alzheimer’s disease goes thru different stages it causes changes in the nutritional needs and eating becomes more of a problem.

Early Stage – There is a problem of impaired memory and judgment that can interfere with the ability to shop for and purchase food.

Middle Stage – The Alzheimer patient has difficulty of performing familiar tasks such as cooking a meal and forgetting that he or she made the meal.  There is also difficulty of smelling and tasting food that were previously familiar favorites.

Late Stage – There are physical capabilities like chewing and swallowing that may become affected.  During this stage there is a need to check for conditions that may affect eating like a sore or dry mouth, tooth decay and eyesight problems.  Alzheimer disease patients may not recognize familiar foods and some will simply refuse to eat.

Why would Alzheimer’s disease individuals have difficulty with eating?

There are a number of factors:

  •  Physical difficulties
  • Disease
  • Agitation/Distraction
  • Eating style
  • Environment
  • Food Quality

There are methods to have an Alzheimer individual able to eat by correcting their chewing and swallowing problems.  It is important to blend the food or alternate with small bites of food with a drink.  Substituting fruit juice, gelatin, foods cooked with water, sherbet, fruit or soup can help with swallowing.  Serve soft foods such as mashed potatoes rather than fried potatoes or applesauce instead of an apple.  Offer bite-size pieces of cooked meat, turkey or chicken salads instead of sliced meat.  Serve thicker liquids such as shakes, nectar and thick juices.  Encourage the person to sit up straight with his/her head slightly forward.  If the person’s head tilts backwards, move it to a forward position.  It is important to learn the Heimlich maneuver in order to help the person if chocking occurs.

How can you reduce the nutritional risk of a person who has Alzheimer’s disease? 

It is important for you to make the meals smaller and serve them more often during the day.  Allow the person to eat at his/her own pace and offer a variety of foods to provide better nutrition balance.  During mealtime, eliminate background distractions such as television, radio or telephone. Distractions can cause intake of food problems during mealtime. Feed the person at regular times such as breakfast at 9:00 am not 9:00 pm. Also fill in the gaps between regular meals with healthy snacks but do not offer junk foods!  It is important to work with the person’s food preferences.   Encourage independence eating by offering finger foods and record what is eaten at meals and snacks.  This can prevent malnutrition.   Keep an ongoing record of the care recipient’s weight and any other eating pattern changes.  To prevent dehydration, give the person plenty to drink especially water. To prevent obesity problems, restrict portions sizes when it is appropriate.  Limit or eliminate highly salted foods or sweets if the patient has chronic health problems such as diabetes or hypertension.  Require the person to have a physical activity plan such as aerobic exercises of walking.  Some persons with Alzheimer’s may pocket the food while eating in their cheeks.  If this does happen then gently move the chin or by lightly stroking their throat this will stimulate the person to chew and swallow.  If there is a swallowing problem then put the food into a food processor of blender before serving it. It is good to use rough-textured foods such as toast or sandwiches made on toasted bread to stimulate the person’s tongue.  This will also encourage chewing and swallowing.

Alzheimer disease patients

But are there ways to reduce your chances of getting Alzheimer’s?  Even though there is no cure that has been some things that may help you in preventing from getting Alzheimer’s.  Eat as little animal fat as possible and eat more fish such as Omega-3 Fatty Acids.  Salmon, Tuna and mackerel are enriched with omega-3 fatty acids.  A diet rich with fish will improve mental ability function.  Taking folic acids may reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s disease by decreasing the amounts of plasma total homocysteine. Foods that are enriched cereal-grain products; fruits and vegetables that have folic acid can prevent the overproduction of homocysteine.

Which can possibly cause Alzheimer’s disease?

It is important for the brain for not to lose it but use it by doing ongoing mental and physical exercise keep the brain healthy.  Regular physical activity increases blood flow to the brain and provides the nutrients necessary to render its tissues resistant to Alzheimer’s.  Eating foods that are rich in Vitamin E such as and increase fiber intake can reduce the chances of getting Alzheimer’s.  Persons with Alzheimer disease are often depressed or anxious and may suffer from sleeplessness or poor general health.  Having adequate sleep, continuing mental activity and stress management can prevent these problems from happening.  Reducing alcohol intake, drinking continuous water and other fluids through out the day can prevent dehydration.

Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, much research is being done to find one.  Educating yourself as much as possible on Alzheimer disease and becoming knowledgeable in the latest research of drugs that can possibly slow the progression of the disease.

For more information on nutrition check out the HEPSA Living Healthy website:  www.livinghealthy1.org

Denine Rogers RD, LD

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