As the primary caregiver of an elderly parent, there comes a moment that makes your heart pound in fear: The first time you notice Mom or Dad forget something they should remember. They may forget the name of a child or grandchild, that they left a pan on the stove, or when to take their pills. When this memory lapse occurs, you may fear that you are witnessing the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s. While only an exam by a qualified physician can ease or confirm those fears, there is help for your elderly loved one, and it may be as close as your kitchen.
Malnutrition and Dementia
People over the age of 50 often experience dietary changes as a result of decreased activity, decreased appetite, or reduced food budgets. Generally speaking, older adults tend to eat increased amounts of low nutrition foods. While caloric intake may remain stable or decrease, the quality of the food eaten is low and can result in malnutrition. In the United States, it is estimated that over a million home-bound older adults are malnourished.
The lack of nutrient-dense foods in your parent’s diet can lead to many health problems including:
- Weight loss
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Muscle weakness or loss of strength
- Poor memory
- Weak immune system
Because of these poor eating habits, there are specific vitamins and minerals, necessary for healthy brain function, that are missing from the diets of many elderly people. This nutritional deficiency can lead to Alzheimer’s-like dementia and other memory deficiencies.
Fortunately, studies have shown that the elderly can experience positive benefits from eating nutrient-rich foods and supplementing their diets with appropriate vitamins. Specifically, supplements of DHEA, the vitamin B family, and vitamins E, C, and D, help neurons to cope with aging.
These nutrients are inexpensive and have no side effects when used at recommended doses.
Help Your Elderly Loved One Avoid Malnutrition
If you are providing care for Mom, make sure that she is eating vitamin-rich foods and taking appropriate supplements. A nutritionally sound diet can reduce the risk of dementia and may even reverse or slow the progress of the disease if addressed early enough. Try to schedule your visits to coincide with a meal time to evaluate her dietary choices and encourage healthier eating habits.
If she is on a restrictive diet, use herbs and spices to make bland food tastier and more interesting. Make sure that your grocery list includes healthy snack options, high in the vitamins and nutrients she needs. Join a health club together and encourage her to exercise as much as she is able to do.
Each of these steps help older adults reduce their risk of developing dementia or other memory issues.
Metabolic Disorders and Dementia
It isn’t just poor food choices that can lead to poor nutritional health. Abnormal chemical reactions in the body can disrupt its ability to process food into usable nutritional components. As with malnutrition, old adults who experience a metabolic disorder like this may not be getting the nutrients they need to maintain healthy brain functions. Some metabolic disorders, if left untreated, can lead to memory loss.
Metabolic causes of dementia can include:
- Endocrine disorders
- Repeat episodes of low blood sugar which is most often seen in people with diabetes who use insulin
- Liver cirrhosis
- Kidney failure
- Severe alcohol use
- Wilson disease
These disorders can lead to confusion, but specific symptoms vary from person to person. The changes may be short term and if the condition is treated soon enough, brain functions can return to normal. If treatment is delayed or unsuccessful, the metabolic disorder can result in permanent dementia.
What You Can Do
There are a variety of blood and other medical tests which can be conducted to determine if your elderly loved one has developed poor eating habits or a metabolic disorder that is hindering healthy brain processes. If you’re worried that Mom is showing signs of cognitive decline, speak to her doctor about your concerns. The sooner a diagnosis is made and treatment begun, the better the chance of reversing the negative impact of these disorders on your parent’s brain function. In fact, these kinds of memory issues may be completely resolved with the appropriate and timely medical intervention.