Are you having difficulties with memory or forgetfulness? Maybe you’ve noticed changes in a loved one’s memory? Or maybe you just want to stay sharp as part of your ‘Healthy Aging’ plan. As we age our brains go through a series of normal, age-related changes. However, our brains do a great job of adapting as these changes occur, and an older brain can work just as well as a younger brain.
Certain medications, your nutrition status and disease can contribute to cognitive decline and even conditions such as dementia. Providing your brain with the right nutrition and managing or preventing certain conditions can assist in supporting memory and cognition.
These are our dietitians’ top tips for staying sharp.
Dehydration can impair cognitive function. Fortunately, changes to cognition related to dehydration are usually easily reversible once hydration status is restored. Staying hydrated can be challenging, especially as you age because thirst signals tend to decrease with age leaving many elderly people at risk of dehydration. Many people as it gets cooler also tend to drink less fluid. Aim to have around 8-10 glasses of fluid per day. Caffeine-free fluid sources such as plain water, soups and herbal teas are best.
Eat Healthy Fats
Good for your heart and good for your brain. Diets high in healthy unsaturated fats such as olive oil, fish and nuts have been linked to lower rates of both dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment. Aim to have 2 serves per day!
Eat a Varied and Nutritious Diet
It is common for people as they age to experience a reduction in appetite and variety within the diet. This can be due to changes in taste and smell, or just a general lack of interest in food. However, poor diet and malnutrition have been strongly linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline. Focussing on eating a mixed varied diet that includes fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, lean protein, fish, nuts and seeds is the best way to ensure that you meet all of your micronutrient needs.
Vitamin Deficiencies Associated with Poor Cognition
- B12 – It is important to note that cognitive decline related to a B12 deficiency is not reversible. Prevention is best. Found in poultry, fish, dairy and fortified milk alternatives such as So Good plant milks.
- Niacin – found in fish, poultry, wholegrains, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
- Thiamine – found in meat, fish, wholegrains, vegetables and fortified bread such as Helga’s.
- Folic acid – found in leafy green vegetables, fruit, legumes, and fortified bread (Helga’s) and cereals (Kellogg’s).
- Biotin – found in Eggs, nuts, vegetables, and dairy.
Iron – found in meat, poultry, fish, legumes, dark leafy green vegetables and nuts.
Selenium – found in nuts, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and wholegrains.
Limit Saturated Fat
The message has likely been received loud and clear by now that saturated fats aren’t good for your heart health. The fact is, they are also not good for your brain health either. Diets high in saturated fat can adversely impact memory and have been associated with an increased risk of developing dementia.
- Processed meats e.g. salami
- Fatty cuts of meat and skin-on chicken
- Full-fat dairy
- Cream (including coconut cream)
- Coconut and palm oils
Heavy alcohol use can lead to lapses in memory and alcohol-related dementia. It is currently unclear whether alcohol has a direct toxic effect on the brain cells, or whether the damage is due to lack of thiamine (vitamin B1). Key parts of the brain may suffer damage through vitamin deficiencies, particularly marked levels of thiamine deficiency and the direct effect that alcohol has on the absorption and use of thiamine.
Diet and Dementia
Dementia is the umbrella term for a number of neurological conditions, of which the major symptom includes a global decline in brain function. Although there is no specific diet to prevent or treat dementia. Certain diet and lifestyles related conditions can increase your risk such as:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Managing these conditions well reduces your risk of developing certain types of dementia that have been associated with them. Work closely with your GP and a dietitian to manage them.
Although cognitive decline with age is multifactorial, as you can see, taking care of your nutrition is an important aspect of looking after your mind as you age. It is always important to discuss with your regular doctor any concerns you might have regarding your memory and cognition. If you have a medical condition that increases your risk of dementia or you find it difficult to meet your needs or would like more information, contact one of our dietitians.