As the number of U.S. seniors is rising, so is the number of dementia cases. Dementia is not one specific disease but a general term describing the impaired ability to make decisions, think, or remember to a degree that interferes with daily activities. Although Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, it is also associated with other conditions. Dementia primarily affects older adults but is not part of normal aging.

Unlike many diseases, there is no single factor that can be controlled to prevent dementia, but research shows that diet can play a part. For example, the Mediterranean diet may provide brain-protective benefits. Promising studies link healthy diet and lifestyle choices to reduce dementia risk.

Dementia and Diet

A healthy diet combined with other beneficial lifestyle changes is a powerful tool that can contribute to a longer, better quality of life. For decades, researchers have been exploring whether a specific food or diet might help delay or prevent dementia, and studies suggest that what you eat impacts the aging brain’s ability to remember and think. These findings have led to research on the effect of eating patterns.  

Because it is so crucial to health, diet is often critical when North Carolina families and their older loved ones consider senior living options. Senior communities should offer menus that help residents maintain or improve their well-being. The best communities can accommodate any dietary needs. 

What’s a Mediterranean Diet? 

It’s no secret that fruits and vegetables are good for you, but many trendy diets focus on other elements, such as protein or carbohydrate intake. Some are built around specific foods or even eating patterns. The Mediterranean diet is a general term describing eating habits popular in countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain, which border the Mediterranean Sea. 

Many residents who choose community living for seniors are comfortable with this type of eating because they come from families that traditionally build meals around foods recommended in the Mediterranean diet. The diet recommends primarily consuming plant-based foods and healthy fats instead of specific foods or portions. This way of eating uses all types of fruits and vegetables and non-meat proteins like beans and other legumes are encouraged.

Harvard’s School of Public Health says the diet encourages eating fish twice weekly and consuming small portions of animal proteins like yogurt, cheese, and poultry. Water should be the primary hydration source; moderate wine consumption with meals is optional.

How Diet Impacts Dementia Risk? 

As the benefits of the Mediterranean diet become better known, more communities offering senior living in Winston-Salem, NC, offer meals prepared according to its principles. Communities that offer senior services often provide dementia care that includes brain-healthy nutrition. Ongoing research shows that certain foods can have powerful health benefits, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. 

Per, recent studies exploring the Mediterranean diet’s impact on thinking, memory, and dementia uncovered the following: 

  • A nine-year study tracking 60,000 seniors concluded participants who ate the diet had a lower chance of developing dementia. 
  • The Mediterranean diet may lower dementia risk by 23%, even in those with a genetic predisposition.  
  • A healthy diet helps preserve cognition but is only one factor determining who will get dementia.

No definitive studies show precisely how the Mediterranean diet safeguards the brain, but there’s evidence that plant-rich diets provide phytochemicals and antioxidants crucial to brain function. The high levels of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables may protect against damage to brain cells linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Brain inflammation is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and the diet might reduce the signs of inflammation. It may also lower elevated cholesterol, associated with thinking problems and memory.

It’s Also About Lifestyle Changes 

The best way for seniors to protect cognitive function is to lead an active lifestyle with nutritious meals and healthy choices. Alzheimer’s professionals recommend not smoking, reducing alcohol intake, and staying socially engaged. It’s also crucial to monitor overall health.

Regular physical activity is very good for brain health and can help protect against dementia, which is why so many North Carolina assisted living homes include programs that promote an active lifestyle. Activity benefits the heart, circulation, weight control, and overall well-being. Either strength training or aerobic activities improve health. Seniors can choose an activity they enjoy, begin at their own pace, and slowly build. 

Significant memory or thinking problems are not typical signs of aging and can be signs of dementia in seniors. Although the problem is most common in aging brains, there is evidence that a Mediterranean diet can help protect the brain from dementia. A plant-based diet, sensible lifestyle choices, and regular activity can help safeguard brain function and overall health.

Heritage Woods is a full-service Independent Living and Assisted Living rental retirement community in the heart of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The staff and management take great care to ensure residents and their families feel at home.