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coconut oil alzheimer'sCoconut oil as a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease has gotten a lot of attention recently. Advocates for this approach cite stories of folks whose symptoms have reversed and abated, even if just for a period of time. A frequently-told story is that of a Florida man suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. His wife began mixing coconut oil into his morning oatmeal, and he began to show improvement within days and complete tasks that had become too hard for him. Ten years later, the disease has progressed nowhere near as quickly as expected. Coconut oil advocates also point out that the disease occurs less often in cultures where coconut oil is used often. Are these claims valid, or is this just another crazy food fad?

There is a possible explanation for why coconut oil may help. As the disease advances, Alzheimer’s patients have trouble with using glucose as energy for the brain. Without fuel, brain cells die and cognitive function suffers. However, there is another substance that the brain can use for energy: ketone bodies, which are produced as byproducts when the body digests coconut oil.

That being said, as of now there is no scientific evidence that coconut oil does what its supporters claim. Formal clinical trials to investigate are just beginning, and the results should begin to come in a couple years from now. But in the meantime, speculation and individual experience are all we have.

But since coconut oil is just another food on the supermarket shelf, there’s no harm in trying it, right? This is true in part, but there’s another factor to consider with coconut oil: its high saturated fat content. The Food and Drug Administration has not confirmed any health benefits for coconut oil, but they do warn people to keep their saturated fat intake to a minimum. Those with high cholesterol or problems with heart disease should talk with their doctors before enjoying coconut oil frequently. If you do decide to try coconut oil, look for brands marked “virgin,” which will have no trans-fats or hydrogenated oils.

Do some research and consider the risks. Be careful of exaggerated claims you may see online: many of those singing the praises of coconut oil also happen to be selling it! Still, you may want to try adding coconut oil to your loved one’s diet slowly. This may be an area of research to keep an eye on.

Our Los Angeles Alzheimer care facilities offer healthy meal options.While eating healthy is vital for any person, regardless of age, the senior population tends to be especially susceptible to poor nutrition or malnutrition. Studies have revealed that a whopping 15 – 50 percent of elderly people in the US suffer from malnutrition, but detection has sometimes proved difficult. Symptoms such as lethargy, light-headedness and loss of appetite are often mistaken for other illnesses. However, as a caregiver, you can help to combat this challenge.

Often more important than attempting to alleviate the nutritional deficiency, getting to the root of why your aging loved one is not eating (or eating well) is essential. Some common causes for poor nutrition in seniors includes the following:

  • Medication. The side effects of certain drugs can lead to nausea, poor appetite, and altered taste buds. It doesn’t matter whether the medication is prescription or over-the-counter – feeling bad often leads to reduced food intake.
  • Poor Dental Health. Some seniors have difficulty with their dentures, broken or missing teeth, or pain in the jaw area that can make the consumption of some foods exceptionally difficult.
  • Lack of Transportation. Ours is no longer a society which harvests its own food, so we depend heavily on routine trips to the grocery store or market to get healthy, fresh foods. Seniors have often scaled back on driving due to the hassle of heavy traffic or other challenges; some have stopped driving altogether. This can make getting the foods you need difficult or nearly impossible.
  • Cognitive Decline. Memory loss (caused by dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other diseases) can disrupt the very idea of maintaining a routine of any sort. The brain’s reaction to these diseases can sometimes make a senior forget very simple things you take for granted (such as when they ate their last meal). Further, some seniors suffering with cognitive decline will buy large amounts of the same items (which can, and often does, reduce their intake of certain nutrients).
  • Depression. A person suffering from depression will often simply feel too “blue” to concern themselves with their diet. Depression tends to take a toll on an individual’s appetite, as feelings of loneliness and/or unhappiness mount. While depression is manageable, this shouldn’t be left untreated.
  • Health Challenges: Some health challenges can make simple kitchen tasks unbearable. Arthritis, vertigo, joint or other pains, and overall weakness can lead seniors to settle for something quick and easy, but less healthy.

The best way to pinpoint signs that these challenges may be leading to nutritional deficiency is to simply observe and have open conversations with your loved one, especially when or if you suspect that he or she isn’t eating enough or enough of the right things.

Speaking of right things, the types of foods taken in is important. Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, protein-rich beans or other legumes, and lean meat and dairy should be the norm in a senior’s diet. The combination of these items helps assure that seniors are getting essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

Other ways to encourage your senior to get better nutrition include: dining as a group, especially with other seniors (to introduce the social factor); maintaining food storage for them; grocery shopping with them; and addressing contributing health concerns that are obstacles to eating well.

 

Our LA home for the aging ensures residents are healthy.

Photo used under Creative Commons from foodswings.

The best assisted living facilities provide nutritious meals that are designed to help older adults take in plenty of nutrients and calories. At Raya’s Paradise, we pride ourselves on our home-cooked food. However, even with delicious things to eat readily available, many people lose their appetite as they age or deal with chronic diseases. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your parent and look for signs of skipped meals during your visits.

The biggest thing to notice is whether your parent has lost weight, but this can be tricky to spot if your mother or father is already relatively thin. Keep an eye on the wrist and forearm area for signs of looser skin. Ask your parent about the fit of their dentures as well – embarrassment often prevents older adults from wanting to discuss their dentures with assisted living staff. Why is this an important detail? If your parent is dealing with sore gums or a loose fit, they may not eat as much as necessary. Issues with proper swallowing can also make it hard to eat enough every day, even with a healthy appetite. Some seniors suffer from strong coughing fits after each bite due to esophageal issues. Every now and then, share a meal with your parent to get a sense of how easy or difficult it is for them to chew and swallow their food.

Some illnesses interfere with a patient’s desire to feed themselves. Many seniors struggling with dementia, depression, digestive issues or ongoing infections spend more time pushing their food around the plate than eating it.

Each person has different nutritional needs depending on their age, health condition, level of physical activity, and digestion ability. An active senior with diabetes needs a different food plan than one who is bed-ridden resident with severe stomach problems. Ensure that your parent is seeing a dietician and that the facility is providing food that matches their needs. People who have to deal with a lot of pain when swallowing may need high-calorie foods to maximize the energy they get with each bite.

If you notice an issue, bring it up with a staff member. The care team, perhaps with input from your parent’s doctor, can come up with a solution. Depending on the particular reason why your parent isn’t eating, there are many simple tricks and strategies the staff can use to make sure they get the nutrition they need. For example, someone with Alzheimer’s disease may need to be seated facing towards the wall rather than looking out over the rest of the room, where noise and activity may distract them. It may also help these patients if staff makes sure they’re seated next to the same companions at each meal, providing a dependable routine. Staff may also serve nutritional shakes to residents who have trouble eating, to make sure they’re taking in enough calories.

The assisted living staff will also check on the eating habits of the residents, but you know your parent best. You may be able to notice subtle changes that are difficult for others to spot. These kind of observations, not just about eating but also about the state of your parent’s general well-being, can make the difference between good and excellent care. The more people watching out for them, the better off the resident will be.

One of the hardest things for seniors living on their own is having meals that are both nutritious and enjoyable. Cooking for one person is tough enough when you’re young and energetic, but when everyday tasks are more difficult and you move more slowly, it’s that much more difficult. Some seniors can’t get out to the grocery store to even get food to begin with. Especially when it comes to men and others who may not have done much cooking earlier in their lives, making your own meals can seem like an impossible task. In these situations, seniors tend to go for what’s quick and easy, not what would be the most ideal choice from a health standpoint.

In addition, seniors living by themselves eat alone much of the time. Having dinner with only the TV for company can be pretty lonely. Even if the senior lives with family, how often in busy homes with kids does everyone come together to share a meal? Despite the living situation the end result may be the same: a microwave dinner in front of the evening news while children stay late to deal with work responsibilities and grandchildren attend basketball practice or reherse for the school play. This scenario may make the senior feel even more cast aside.

To be fair, some seniors are still excellent cooks and can fend for themselves. But the chances are good that sooner or later, food will become an issue. When it does, it can contribute to making a senior’s delicate health even worse. Poor nuturition makes people more likely to get sick, can exacerbate conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia, and can lead to depression.

Those who are concerned about their older loved ones should not wait for the senior to ask for help, as sometimes they will fear the loss of their independence and hide problems. Watch for clues like excessive weight loss or a refrigerator with barren shelves or expired food. Consider whether getting to the grocery store is a challenge: does the senior have trouble getting outside his or her home? You also may want to ask if he or she is having problems with swallowing or chewing or if they’re experiencing a loss of appetite.

This is one area in which assisted living can make a big difference in a senior’s life. Assisted living residents do not have to worry about cooking for themselves. They get to have regular mealtimes within a community and experience the comfort of gathering together with people they know. A good assisted living facility will make sure the senior gets the proper diet for his or her specific health issues.

We all feel happier when eating well and enjoying good company. Attention to this area can be a huge boost in a senior’s quality of life.