Researchers Claim That a Holistic Handling of Mealtime Environments Could Help Seniors Resist Succumbing to Dementia
Dementia is a devastating illness that wreaks havoc on every aspect of a person’s life, and one of the biggest dangers it poses is its negative impact on people’s eating habits.
Many people believe that dementia is an illness that mostly affects the brain, but the truth is that it has serious repercussions for the entire body. People with dementia are at greater risk of malnutrition and dehydration, both of which are associated with a poor quality of life. In fact, research shows that 20 to 45 percent of people with dementia note clinically significant amounts of weight loss in the course of one year.
According to research that was funded by the UK’s National Institute for Health Research and carried out by the University of East Anglia, a holistic approach to mealtime can help improve nutrition, hydration and the overall quality of life experienced by people who are living with dementia.
Eating environment just as important as the food itself
A holistic approach means that aspects related to mealtime are given just as much importance as the contents of the food itself. The team looked at a total of 56 different interventions geared toward improving the food intake of more than 2,200 dementia sufferers.
Some of the interventions they tested included playing various types of music during the meal, creating an eating environment that mimics home, improving the social aspects of eating, providing waitress service, changing the color of the dishes on which the food was served, doing tai chi, offering nutrition supplements and singing.
In addition, they studied whether better training and education for caregivers and behavioral interventions like encouraging people to eat could make a difference.
The effectiveness of these interventions was measured by assessing whether the patients noted improvements in their body weight and hydration levels, as well as their actual enjoyment of mealtimes.
UEA Norwich Medical School’s Dr. Lee Hooper, who was the lead researcher of the project, stated, “We found a number of promising interventions – including eating meals with care-givers, having family-style meals, facilitating social interaction during meals, longer mealtimes, playing soothing mealtime music, doing multisensory exercise and providing constantly accessible snacks.”
It should come as no surprise that eating together family-style, and providing social interaction at mealtime can make such a big difference. A study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry showed that it was actually a person’s feeling of loneliness rather than physically being alone that increased their risk of developing dementia, with those who felt lonely being 64 percent more likely to end up with dementia than those who did not feel lonely.
Smart food choices still play a role
These interventions should start early in life to help stave off dementia, or at least delay its onset. There are also some dietary choices that can help. For example, countless studies have shown that consuming blueberries can boost cognitive function and prevent the onset of dementia, thanks to the anthocyanins they contain.
Turmeric has been shown in studies to improve the memory and attention span of older people, and it also carries with it a number of other health benefits such as reducing inflammation and boosting blood flow. In a recent study, researchers noted significantly better performance on memory tasks among participants who took curcumin capsules compared to those who did not.
Like all health-related issues, the answers to dementia cannot be found at the bottom of a pill bottle. Maintaining optimal health requires a holistic approach that takes into account the body, mind, emotions and spirit.