Alzheimer’s disease is an illness which, in general, develops in people in their old age, causing cognitive impairment and behavioural problems. The problems which arise as a result of illness don’t only affect the patients, but also their families and carers. Since it affects every aspect of daily life, it’s worth thinking about the impact on eating habits. As you may know, Alzheimer’s is a progressive illness and it doesn’t affect nutrition at an early stage. However, as the illness advances it goes through different phases which will eventually affect the individual’s eating habits.
The different phases
It’s fairly normal for people with Alzheimer’s to have periods when they go hungry, or other periods when they repeat a meal, because they can’t remember if they’ve already eaten or not. Some others develop the habit of eating non-food products, and in the later stages people can sometimes refuse to eat at all out of fear of being poisoned, or simply because the sensation of hunger disappears. Towards the final stages of the illness, the person may not even know how to eat: meaning, he or she no longer knows how to chew or swallow. Not all patients will go through these stages, nor in this order, but what seems to be true is that the majority of people with this illness tend to lose weight. That can cause malnutrition and accelerate the illness in the long term.
The protective role of the Mediterranean diet
Making sure that both the person with Alzheimer’s and those caring for them are well-fed and healthy will help to maintain physical and mental health – we shouldn’t forget that our diet directly affects the structure and functioning of our brains. What’s more, several studies have shown a relationship between our diet and Alzheimer’s, and, although we still have a long way to go, it has been found that the Mediterranean diet – with a high consumption of fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, and a low consumption of meat – may have a protective role against the illness.
It is important to control the food intake and weight of the person you care for because, just like older people experiment a reduction in their energy needs, people with Alzheimer’s – due to the illness itself as well as their nervousness and continuous walking during the day – experiment an increase in both their energy and protein needs. Given that almost 50% of people with the disease will develop some kind of malnutrition, we want to give you some recommendations that will help you maintain the nutrition of your loved one.
Vitamins and antioxidants at all times, the keys to avoiding malnutrition
The aim of these recommendations is to stop or halt weight loss, and to provide a high level of antioxidant foods, B vitamins and omega 3. From now on, to keep the person you care for in the best form possible for the longest time possible, you should keep the following tips in mind.
- Consume smaller, highly-nutritional meals 5-6 times a day.
- Eat at the table and in company, and let them eat as independently as they can. Maintain their self-confidence and autonomy as long as possible.
- Cook colourful, easy-to-eat dishes.
- Since most people with Alzheimer’s usually have a significant vitamin deficit, it’s essential to include plenty of fruit, vegetables and nuts in meals to increase the levels of vitamin C, B and E.
- Proteins will be of utmost importance. It’s better if they are proteins derived from fish rather than from meat, because they’ll also provide high-quality fats. Oily fish enriches the diet with omega 3 fatty acids.
- In general, the elderly have less of a feeling of thirst. You should make sure your loved one drinks plenty of water.
- In the early stages, it is important to make the shopping list together, and get them involved in the preparation of meals. It will also be useful to plan the daily menu, including which food and what time you will eat.
- If they have a tendency of eating non-food things, it is important to products which might be confused with food out of sight, and hide toxic products particularly carefully (cleaning products, medicines etc.)
- If the problem is that they refuse to eat at all, check that they don’t have any ulcers or infections in the mouth. It might be a good idea to give them easy-to-eat food, and let them use their hands.
- Sometimes they might refuse to open their mouth, but don’t get exasperated. Maybe a massage on the cheeks can help, or even little taps with an ice cube on the lips can make things easier.
- If he refuses to chew or swallow, try miming the actions: the person with Alzheimer’s tends to imitate his carer.
Don’t forget that showing a flexible attitude, respecting the pace of your loved one, allowing self-correction, avoiding disputes and being positive, creating routines to avoid conflicts and, above all, immediately praising efforts made will do a lot to help you.
Tuna croquettes, home-cooked food to eat with your hands
Ingredients for 4 peoples
- 100 gr flour
- 400 ml skimmed milk
- 250 gr canned tuna with olive oil
- 1 bunch of parsley
- 2 cloves of garlic and ½ spring onion
- 1 little green pepper
- ½ leek
- 1 soup spoon of sesame seeds
- Salt, pepper and olive oil
1. Fry the fine chopped vegetables slightly in a saucepan on a low heat with a good dash of olive oil until they are fully cooked. Pay attention to them not getting brown.
2. Add the tuna in small bits and a soup spoon of chopped parsley. Stir thoroughly and sauté everything for about 2 minutes.
3. Add the flour and stir thoroughly. Pour the milk gradually stirring continuously until a thicken but light dough is formed. Leave to cook and don’t stop stirring for some minutes. Add some salt if needed and leave to cool.
4. Form the croquettes with the help of a fork and coat in egg and breadcrumbs together with the sesame seeds. Leave to cool for some hours in the fridge before frying them in plenty of oil. No it’s ready to serve.
Croquettes are nutritious, versatile and easy to eat, while tuna is a major source of protein and omega 3. Vegetables also provide folates, vitamins and fibre. In addition to this, sesame is a great source of calcium and vitamin E.
If you choose to serve the croquettes with a colourful salad or a good portion of vegetables and a fruit juice containing orange, you’ll have a balanced, easy and delicious meal. Bon appétit!
Author: Laia Freixinet, Nutritionist
Last Modification: April 12, 2017
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