Caring Currents

What to Feed Someone With Memory Loss

Last updated: Jan 26, 2010

Blueberries
Image by Kyle McDonald used under the creative commons attribution license.

Can food reverse or slow memory loss? Some new studies suggest a big"¦ "maybe." But as with hopes for a miracle pill or supplement that can vanquish dementia, "maybe" is a ways off from "yes."

Your first clue to take recent nutrition news about dementia with a shaker of salt is the word "miracle" attached to the headlines, Two examples:

Miracle shake?

Danone (parent company of the yogurt maker Dannon) has been testing a nutrient-dense milkshake called Souvenaid that contains high doses of omega-3 oils, B vitamins, antioxidants, wheat germ, and other nutrients. Initial research in Europe and the U.S. showed limited benefits in language recall among people with mild dementia, but not much other change.

Miracle juice?

In a separate study, wild blueberry juice is fingered as the go-to food of the day. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reports that its concentration of phytochemicals with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects significantly improved word association and list recall in subjects over age 70 with mild memory loss, compared to those who drank a placebo juice.

I don't doubt for a minute that nutrition science is unlocking amazing insights into how the foods we eat can affect individual body chemistry -- including cognition. The problem is with the "miracle" perception this news inspires. As much as we all hope for speedy improvements in a loved one, evidence is still iffy.

In fact, you'll probably find greater success making nutritional tweaks in your own diet. That's because the nutrients being pegged as potential anti-Alzheimer's "miracle foods" pretty much represent basic sensible nutrition. What we do know is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's is maintaining a healthful diet that keeps blood pressure and cholesterol low and helps one avoid hypertension and other cardiovascular problems, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity. In other words, you may have time to ward off the damage that leads to brain degeneration.(Starting point: Try these 6 simple diet game-changers).

Still, it can't hurt to serve up more of the following to your entire family "“ those who have dementia, as well as those you hope are spared a similar fate:

Brain-health foods

  • Blueberries. They're a two-thumbs-up fruit for the reasons mentioned in the study above, and because they cross the blood-brain barrier. Bear in mind, though, the study subjects drank 2.5 cups per day of wild blueberry juice "“ not a type I've seen at my local market next to the OJ! Also good: Other purple-hued fruits such as cranberries and Concord grapes.

  • Leafy greens. Research has been mixed on the effects of B vitamins on cognition; high-dose supplements have been found to have no effect. But B-vitamins are rich in antioxidants, which helps overall brain health. Also good: B vitamins are also found in lean meat, folic-acid-enriched grains, legumes.

  • Wild-caught salmon. Oily fish contains the highest concentrations of the component in omega-3 fatty acids known as DHA. Eating it just once a week reduced the risk of Alzheimer's, according to one study. Also good: Omega-3 fats are found in tuna, sardines, herring, mackerel, walnuts

  • Curcumin. Found in the yellow spice turmeric (used most often in curry), it has an anti-inflammatory effect. Easy way to eat it: Add to cooking rice. Also good: Other brain-smart spices include cinnamon (helps regulate blood sugar) and oregano (high in antioxidants).

Of more immediate help in feeding someone who has dementia may be to learn how to solve eating problems common to someone with dementia.