Do Food Choices Impact Your Alzheimer’s Risk?

Do Food Choices Impact Your Alzheimer’s Risk?

Researchers have already found links between diet and health problems like cardiovascular disease and cancer. Now, evidence suggests that some food choices can influence a person’s risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

The American Academy of Neurology and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine estimate that there could be 13.8 million people with Alzheimer’s disease by the year 2050.

How could dietary changes help efforts to prevent the growth of Alzheimer’s disease?

How Diet Might Impact Your Alzheimer’s Risk

The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet may help reduce Alzheimer’s risk, researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found. This diet combines Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and the heart-friendly Mediterranean diet. Study results indicate that this combined diet may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

In the study, more than 900 people aged 58 to 98 filled out food questionnaires and received neurological testing. The volunteers who most closely followed the MIND diet had cognitive function similar to a person 7.5 years younger than themselves.

What Foods Make Up the MIND Diet?

Here are the major foods that this diet includes:

  • Plenty of whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat, or oatmeal) daily
  • Green leafy vegetables nearly every day
  • Other vegetables every day
  • Two servings of berries weekly
  • Limited red meat intake
  • Fish and poultry as the main source of meat
  • At least three servings of beans weekly
  • Five servings of nuts weekly
  • Olive oil as the primary cooking oil

The MIND diet encourages moderate alcohol consumption, limited to one glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage daily.

Foods that should be consumed only rarely include sweets, pastries, cheese, red meat, butter, and anything fried.

Small, Incremental Dietary Changes to Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk

The study found that even moderately following the MIND diet could have a positive impact on the risk of Alzheimer’s.

This means that the MIND diet does not require an “all or nothing” approach, or making many big changes all at once.

Instead, you might start by gradually making a few small changes to your eating habits.

  • If you tend to consume a lot of sweets, start cutting back.
  • Snack on fruit, nuts, and vegetables instead of chips or cookies. This will help increase consumption of healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.
  • Use brown rice instead of white, and whole-wheat bread in sandwiches.
  • Exchange butter for olive oil.
  • Have salads for lunch, including a wide variety of vegetables.
  • Try turkey or veggie burgers instead of hamburgers.
  • Choose foods stir-fried in olive oil instead of fried foods.

Help Senior Loved Ones Follow a Healthy Diet and Lifestyle

Although diet is an important part of good health, it is not a guarantee against Alzheimer’s. Keep your brain healthy with a combination of clean eating, physical exercise, social support, regular checkups, and learning.

Heritage Senior Communities provide healthy, balanced meal options that help seniors stay healthy. Contact us to learn more about our residences, including new locations in Saline and Holland, Michigan.

The Benefits of Pet Therapy for Adults with Dementia

The Benefits of Pet Therapy for Adults with Dementia

Animals can help people of all ages reduce stress and improve their overall quality of life, and adults with dementia are no exception.

Whether you’re looking for a pet or a trained service animal for a loved one with dementia, here’s what you should know.

What are the benefits of pet therapy for adults with dementia?

Advantages of Pets for People with Dementia

Playing with or caring for an animal has many advantages:

  • Lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Increased levels of the “feel-good” hormone serotonin
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • Improved social skills
  • Increased mental stimulation, including memory recall in people with dementia

Caring for a pet, and even just an occasional visit with a service animal, also may help prevent feelings of isolation or lack of purpose. Depending on the type of interaction with the animal, pet therapy also could encourage physical activity, such as playing with a cat or throwing a ball for a dog.

Pet therapy can help caregivers as well. Friends and family who join in have also reported feeling better afterward.

How to Start Pet Therapy for an Adult with Dementia

Seniors who live independently or have only mild dementia might keep their own pet, although caregivers should discuss this with their loved one’s doctor. Dogs, cats, and rabbits are some of the most common types of animals used in pet therapy.

Depending on your senior loved one’s needs, a trained service dog may be helpful. The Daily Treat blog offers a list of organizations that provide service dogs based on the person’s needs.

If your loved one cannot keep a pet but you would like to find an organization to help provide pet therapy, the Alzheimer’s Association blog has a list of resources to help you get started.

Introducing Pets to Patients with Dementia

If you are a caregiver with a pet, your senior loved one can gain physical and mental benefits from your own furry friend.

Elder loved ones should only be introduced to calm, well-behaved, healthy animals. Your pet should be up-to-date on all shots and exams and free of parasites. If possible, make sure the pet has had a bathroom break before the visit to avoid unsanitary accidents.

If you want to bring a pet into a senior residence, be sure to check with an administrator regarding any rules about animals.

If meeting a living animal is impossible or impractical, your senior loved one may also get some of the same health benefits from a stuffed animal. While this seems counterintuitive, anecdotal evidence suggests that a stuffed animal can provide comfort to people with dementia, remind them of a former pet, and give them a new way to interact with caregivers.

Pet Therapy Has Many Benefits

If you are caring for an elder loved one with dementia, consider pet therapy to help them improve their memory, stress levels, and general wellbeing.

Heritage Senior Communities are pet friendly too! Contact us to learn more about our pet policies for residents.

Tips for Dining Out When a Loved One has Dementia

Tips for Dining Out When a Loved One has Dementia

Seniors with dementia can benefit from occasional social outings, including dining out at a local restaurant. The right preparation will help you and your loved one have an enjoyable experience.


Dining Out With a Senior Who Has Dementia

 Give the following suggestions a try to help your whole family enjoy dining out together.

Choose someplace familiar and accessible.

Visit a familiar restaurant that serves meals your loved one likes and finds easy to eat.

If your family member requires help in the restroom, choose a restaurant with convenient bathrooms. If your loved one is prone to anxiety and needs to feel sheltered, seek out a restaurant with booths that offer more privacy

Eat at a time that coincides with your loved one’s normal meal schedule, and avoid hours when their dementia symptoms are usually worse.

Create an emergency kit.

It is better to be too prepared than to be caught by surprise, so make a checklist of things to do and bring when going out to eat. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make sure your cell phone is fully charged.
  • Bring insurance papers, emergency contacts, and medication lists. It may sound excessive, but it can be a relief in an emergency.
  • Consider a change of clothes in case your loved one has an accident in the bathroom, spills food, or just gets cold.

Alert the restaurant staff to your loved one’s needs.

If you go out regularly with your loved one, it may help to print up small cards with information that you can give to staff at restaurants and shops you visit. It can be as simple as, “My loved one has dementia and may behave in unexpected ways. Thank you for your understanding.”

Calling the restaurant ahead of time for special accommodations, such as a particular table or dietary needs, is also helpful.

Understand what their behavior means.

If your loved one becomes agitated, your first instinct may be to take them home immediately. This may not be necessary once you understand the behavior.

Many individuals with dementia ask to “go home”–even if they are home. Ask your loved one why they have to go home. They may need the comfort of home, or think they have to do chores. Don’t try to argue; instead, offer them reassurance, and try to redirect their attention.

Seniors with dementia are prone to wandering for many reasons. Your loved one may be confused by the unfamiliar environment. They may be trying to ease pain or discomfort. Stay beside them at all times when you are out of the house.

Need extra help?

If visiting restaurants is no longer an option for your loved one and you are struggling to manage their care on your own, it might be time to consider a memory care program.

Specialized dementia care programs, such as those at Heritage Senior Communities, allow adults with dementia to live their best quality of life. Residents of our dementia care programs participate in guided life enrichment activities and wellness events designed to help them feel independent and empowered.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can provide your loved one with quality care, while giving you peace of mind.

Can Brain Games and Apps Really Help Prevent Alzheimer’s?

Can Brain Games and Apps Really Help Prevent Alzheimer’s?

If you’ve watched a senior family member struggle with the debilitating impact of Alzheimer’s, it has probably crossed your mind that you could be at risk for the disease. Because researchers haven’t figured out what causes Alzheimer’s, knowing what steps you can take to prevent it isn’t an exact science. But there are strong theories that might help. One of which involves brain games and apps.

Using Brain Games and Apps to Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s research seems to suggest that a set of techniques called ‘brain training’ may significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Although research is on-going, preliminary results are encouraging.

Brain training is based on the idea that you can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment by challenging the brain regularly with a variety of tasks and exercises. These exercises can include activities like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and taking up new hobbies as you grow older. They may also include a variety of computer brain games and apps.

6 Brain Game Apps That May Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

While research is required to support the evidence that brain training can prevent Alzheimer’s, these six apps are ones to consider downloading. Each one is challenging and entertaining.

  1. Luminosity App

With more than 70 million users worldwide, the Luminosity App is one of the most popular brain training apps on the market. It features a wide variety of games, each of which is designed to sharpen specific areas of brain functioning such as memory, attention, and processing speed.

  1. Peak Brain Training

Another popular cognitive improvement app, Peak Brain Training uses a number of short but intense exercises to improve mental skills like focus, problem-solving skills, and computational speed. It also features a virtual coach that helps track progress and point out problem areas.

  1. Dakim Brain Fitness

This app offers cross-training for the aging brain, with more than 100 different types of mental exercises that can simultaneously improve mental functioning and keep the user engaged. This app is especially promising because many of its exercises are based on the work of psychologists and brain researchers.

  1. Elevate

The Elevate App features simple and easy-to-access mini-games that use progressively more difficult exercises to improve mental speed, mathematical skills, concentration, and memory. Similar in some ways to Peak, Elevate is visually appealing, fast-paced, and entertaining.

  1. BrainyApp

This Australian app uses a more comprehensive approach to dementia prevention by providing challenges and rewards across five different lifestyle areas. These areas include heart health, physical exercise, cognitive maintenance, proper diet, and social activities. The BrainyApp differs from others of its kind because of its holistic approach to Alzheimer’s prevention.

  1. Cognifit Brain Fitness

This app features an initial cognitive assessment, as well as access to a wide range of entertaining and challenging games. The games were designed with the input of neuroscientists to help improve brain functioning in several different areas.

Hope for Older Americans with Alzheimer’s

At Heritage Senior Living communities, one of our goals is to inspire hope for people with dementia. In our memory care programs across Michigan, we help people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia live their best quality of life.

From dedicated dining to continuous caregiver training, we are committed to empowering adults with dementia. We invite you to schedule a personal visit to learn more!


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How to Prevent a Senior From Getting the Holiday Blues

How to Prevent a Senior From Getting the Holiday Blues

Dear Donna,

With the holiday season quickly approaching, I have what some people might think is a strange question. Last year, around mid-December, I noticed that my Mom seemed to be feeling down a lot.

She’s 80, and I’m wondering if she was feeling a touch of the holiday blues. I’ve heard of this, but I’m not sure what causes it. I’d like to keep this from happening again. What can I do to keep her spirits up this holiday season?

Thank you,

Beth in Grand Rapids

The Holiday Blues and Older Adults

Dear Beth,

Thank you for asking this question. It’s not a strange one at all!

Mental health is an important issue this time of year, and you’re very perceptive for wondering about your mom’s frame of mind. Here are a few reasons why she may be feeling down, plus some suggestions about how you can help.

Commons Reasons Seniors Develop the Holiday Blues

  1. Long Distance Family

We all like to think this is the ‘season of joy’ but not everyone experiences the season in quite the same way. For some seniors, the holidays can actually bring sadness—especially if their children and grandchildren live far away.

From your letter, it sounds like your mom lives near you in Grand Rapids. Are there other family members, perhaps outside of Michigan, that she yearns to see? Can you arrange for them to visit during the holidays?

  1. Loss of Significant Other or Others They Hold Dear

Even seniors who are surrounded by family members all year long can still suffer sadness. One reason is they may be facing their first holiday season without their spouse. Many have lost friends or other family members, and the holiday season can highlight their absence, too.

Has your mom recently lost someone dear to her? If so, there’s no denying the sadness she may be feeling. You can help by being there for her. If and when she wants to talk, be a good listener. Encourage her to express her feelings to you at any time. Check in with her every day and let her know that you care.

  1. Thoughts of Better (Healthier) Times

This season triggers memories of past holiday celebrations in all of us. For older adults, those memories may only heighten their awareness of aging. Some older adults get the holiday blues because they’re mourning the loss of their own mobility or other physical capabilities.

Has your mom been experiencing health issues? Is she frail or experiencing a loss of appetite?

If you think the symptoms of aging might be causing her holiday sadness, try to plan some fun outings in the upcoming weeks. How about a spa day? Museums or a show? Holiday shopping? Be sure to plan outings that are manageable day for her.

Distracting her from any health issues she may have can help improve her mental well-being. Plus, proving that she can still get out of the house and have fun–despite her health issues–should help lift her spirits.

  1. Set Aside Lots of Time Together

Finally, some people find that the cure-all for many issues is spending quality time together. For your mother, any loss that she’s experienced can spark strong emotions. It doesn’t matter if the loss is a spouse, a friend, a pet, or the ability to dig in her garden.

If she’s like a lot of people, she may feel those losses more deeply during the holidays. Facing those emotions all at once during what’s supposed to be a joyous season is enough to bring on the blues in anyone.

Spend quality time with your mother so she doesn’t have to face all those emotions alone. Ask her for help with holiday prep activities, make her feel needed and included, and most of all, show your love in a variety of ways.

Beth, I hope this has helped you to understand your mom a little better. May you and your mother have a blessed holiday season, from everyone here at Heritage Senior Living.


Heritage Senior Living Communities Invites Your Questions

Beth’s question raised a lot of important issues and we are glad we could help shed some light on her mom’s situation.

Do you have a question for Donna?

Send it our way and we’ll make sure she gets it.

How to Safely Include a Senior with Dementia in Your Holiday Celebrations

How to Safely Include a Senior with Dementia in Your Holiday Celebrations

One of the nicest things about the holiday season is the many opportunities we have for celebrating with friends and family. Between all the parties and family get-togethers, it’s traditionally a very social time of year. Naturally, you want to include everyone in the festivities.

For people who have a loved one with dementia, the holidays can be a bit more challenging.

You have to think about their comfort and safety, and you want everyone to have a good time. With a few considerations, you can still have a joyous season where everyone gets involved in the holiday fun.

Three Safe Ways to Include a Senior With Dementia in Your Celebrations

All it takes is a little forethought, and you can plan events that are fun and festive for everyone.

  1. Include Your Senior Loved One in Holiday Cooking

During the holidays, the air is full of familiar scents like turkey roasting or cookies baking in the oven. Just having your loved one around while you’re cooking can be a good way to include them. The familiar, comforting cooking aromas may spark pleasant memories of holiday celebrations from their past. There’s a name for when that happens: sense memory.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s the idea that our five senses play an important role in creating memories. Recalling certain parts of the past may be difficult for someone who has dementia but tapping into sense memory may be easier.

That’s especially important to remember during this time of year when there’s plenty of opportunity for using the senses to engage your loved one. Although memories can be triggered by any of the five senses, the strongest connections are made between smell and memory. The olfactory bulb, which handles scent, is located next to the part of the brain that’s responsible for our memories.

  1. Involve Them in Holiday Preparations

If they’re able, your senior loved one could even help with the baking. That way, they can feel they’ve played a role in the holiday preparations.

In fact, there are lots of ways to weave purposeful activities into holiday celebrations with your loved one. Even if it’s something as simple as hanging decorations on a tree or placing non-breakable decorations around the house, helping may make your loved one feel useful and more involved.

But we want to caution you about holiday decorations and adults with dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends avoiding using blinking lights. These have been known to cause confusion and anxiety in people who have dementia.

  1. Read Holiday Stories Together

Reading aloud to people who have dementia has been found to be therapeutic in many instances. During the holidays, it can be a powerful way to engage them in the spirit of the season.

This works especially well if you have children in your family. For your senior loved one, hearing traditional stories read aloud may not only evoke fond memories but it may also ease feelings of stress.

Celebrating the Holidays at Heritage Senior Living Communities

Heritage Senior Communities is a family-owned company. We know about the importance of family bonds and celebrations throughout the year, not just the holidays. It’s part of living a full, satisfying life.

For our residents with dementia, we have The Terrace–a space that’s 100 percent dedicated to improving their quality of life.

If you’d like to know more about specialized dementia care at The Terrace, we invite you to call us any time!