World Alzheimer’s Month takes place every September with World Alzheimer’s Day being marked on September 21st. This month is dedicated to spreading global awareness of Alzheimer’s disease but what exactly is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a neurological disorder that progressively worsens over time. It is the most common form of dementia – a broad term for any neurological disorder that affects how you think, remember, and live your everyday life. Approximately 747,000 people (2% of the population) in Canada have Alzheimer’s with women being 2x more likely to be diagnosed than men. The main risk factors of Alzheimer’s are typically age, genetics, family history, and lifestyle factors (chronic diseases, diet, physical activity, sleep, etc.). There are different types of Alzheimer’s depending on the age at which symptoms start. The first type, early onset, occurs in people under the age of 65 and is rare. The second type, late onset, affects people older than 65 and is much more common.
Brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s begin taking place years before symptoms start. Symptom onset occurs in a series of stages – the first is the early or mild stage and where diagnosis usually occurs. Individuals can still function independently but start to exhibit symptoms including early memory loss (mainly short-term), increased difficulty completing everyday activities, and mood or behavioural changes.
The second stage is referred to as middle or moderate Alzheimer’s and generally occurs over the longest period of time. In this stage, an individual experiences a decline in their ability to live independently as their symptoms increase in severity. They start to become increasingly forgetful, may experience more pronounced personality changes, and generally require more assistance to complete everyday tasks.
The final stage is referred to as late or severe Alzheimer’s. In this stage, an individual is no longer able to care for themselves and is likely unable to interact much with others. As the disease worsens, individuals experience a marked decline in physical abilities such as sitting, walking, or standing.
Now that we’ve learned more about Alzheimer’s, what role does nutrition play here? As mentioned above, poor lifestyle choices are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s but the good news is they are modifiable (meaning we have some control over them). Book today with one of our dietitians to help with Alzheimer’s disease. A healthy lifestyle helps with aging in general but also promotes brain health which can potentially reduce the risk of developing neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s. Good lifestyle choices include a healthy diet (balanced meals – half your plate should be made up of fruits/veg and the other half split between protein and carbs), limited alcohol consumption, no smoking, consistent physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and good sleep habits. While you can’t change risk factors like your genes or family history, healthy lifestyle choices may help to offset some of these risk factors. Book today with one of our dietitians to improve your diet and lifestyle.
Next, what are the nutritional implications of Alzheimer’s? As symptoms worsen, individuals begin to experience more and more difficulty with physical movements until they are unable to move at all. This means that individuals eventually become unable to feed themselves and may also have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). Reduced food consumption can lead to malnutrition and unintentional weight loss which further weakens an individual and affects their body’s ability to function. Additionally, dysphagia is dangerous as a person could choke on their food, leading to aspiration pneumonia. This happens when food gets into the lungs, causing an infection, and is one of the main causes of death in people with Alzheimer’s. Do you or a loved one struggle with any of these nutritional issues? Book today with one of our dietitians.
Dietitians have an important role to play in helping people with Alzheimer’s. A dietitian can provide nutrition counselling and advice for an individual looking to make healthier lifestyle choices as a preventative measure. A dietitian can also help people who have Alzheimer’s by working with them to figure out what food choices are best for them. This might look like finding energy and nutrient-dense foods for individuals with low appetite or helping people with dysphagia find safe, nutritious, and appetizing foods to eat. For more information on how a dietitian can help individuals with Alzheimer’s, visit For the Love of Food today!