Food for Thought

Being Mindful About Feeding the Brain

A while back, I worked at a beautiful senior living facility. It had an excellent reputation as one of the best in the county. Sons and daughters would bring their elderly parents there to live because it was clean and bright, and the surroundings very inviting. The place had wonderful caregivers. They offered graduated levels of assistance for the residents so that if they needed more or less care, it was available.

In the time I worked there, I met many seniors with the beginnings of memory loss, Alzheimer’s Disease, and dementia. Often within 6 months, we could see a noticeable decline in these residents’ mental ability as the diseases advanced. Medications would be added to their daily regimens, to no avail.

Meals at the facility were of the typical American type: lots of refined white flour, sugar, meats, gravies, cheeses, overcooked vegetables, minimal fruits, and desserts. The kitchen manager was a lovely lady who did her best to please everyone. I had read that nutrition could make a difference for people with these illnesses, so I spoke with her. 

She listened to my suggestions, but, unfortunately, she was not equipped to make real changes in the food they prepared, despite what the research said. So the menus didn’t change, and without anything besides chair yoga and jigsaw puzzles to offer resistance, the population continued into decline in mental function. 

I eventually resigned from that facility, a little heartbroken that we refused to support the optimal mental functioning of those beautiful 70 – 100 year old people. It would have taken a fundamental shift from believing the residents were experiencing “inevitable decline.” Instead, we would have to believe that we could make a difference by providing massive cognitive and physical healing support through whole, healthy foods. 

Evidence shows that the food we eat can and does make a difference in brain health as we age. That is something we all need to be more mindful of as we care for our seniors, and as we age ourselves.

For details on how food affects brain health, please watch Dr. Neal Barnard’s Tedx Talk entitled Power Foods for the Brain here