Dementia is one of the topics to which those of us who are geriatric care managers (GCMs) devote a fair bit of attention. In our day to day work and in my blog I have often talked about how caregivers can best communicate with, and care for, older loved ones who may be experiencing the cognitive deficits of Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia. In this posting, however, I am going to share with you a bit of good news for caregivers and other individuals in their middle years who wish to take positive action to avoid dementia themselves. Yes, there are steps that a middle aged individual can take that will quantifiably reduce their risks of dementia, at least according to long term research recently released from the University of Eastern Finland.
Very simply, what the Finnish researchers set out to do was study what kind of influence healthy diet could have among individuals from midlife as they aged. The researchers developed an index which helped them to quantify what constituted a “healthy diet” versus what they considered to be an “unhealthy diet.” Healthy foods included unsaturated fats from milk products as well as fish, fruits, berries and vegetables. Unhealthy foods, on the other hand, included saturated fats, salty fish, sweetened drinks, other sweets, eggs and sausages.
At the end of fourteen years, those who had eaten the healthiest foods had a 90% lower risk of developing dementia than those whose diets were the least healthy. These individuals started the program at about fifty years of age and the final assessment was in their mid-sixties. Those participants who had the highest consumption of saturated fats at the outset of the study were at higher risk of being diagnosed with “mild cognitive impairment” at the 21 year point in the study as well. This link between saturated fat consumption and incidence of cognitive impairment was consistent among the panel of participants. But there was another finding about coffee that may come as something of a surprise.
They found that the “sweet spot” was three to five cups of coffee a day. That is to say the researchers found that those who consumed fewer than three as well as those who consumed more than five cups of coffee a day had higher risks for developing dementia over the courses of their lives. Something of a “happy medium.”
What should people in their middle years make of this study? The researchers had used this measure of a healthy diet based on the sum total of what a person consumes because they argued that there are a lot of interactions across foods and nutrients. That said, it also makes it difficult to point to a single food that is the miracle “dementia stopper.” In reality, maybe it is just that…that there is no one food that is going to make us healthier or one that will make us inherently less healthy. If you want to make it to your later years without as great a fear of cognitive decline, should you eat less saturated fats and consumer more fruits, berries and vegetables along with an average dose of coffee. These researchers would probably say that it couldn’t hurt.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to info@cr eativecaremanagement.com.