Keep your brain fit

Most of the causes of dementia are not preventable. However, the control of high blood pressure and diabetes, healthy diet and regular exercise can reduce the risk of vascular dementia triggered by stroke. Although there is so far no cure of dementia, the risk of onset can be lowered if we can keep our brain fit in our everyday life.
Here are ten simple but useful tips:

1. Active mental activities

Recent studies suggest that patients of “mild dementia” can slow down brain degeneration if they take part in different interest groups and activities in everyday life, as well as do more brain exercises. Therefore, patients of “mild dementia” should participate in different activities at elderly community centres and neighbourhood centres close by, expand their social circle and develop new interests and hobbies.
  Brain training games, such as mahjong. Learning activities, such as reading and drawing. Regular exercise, such as Taichi classes, dancing, aerobics and swimming. Expand your social circle and try to meet and interact with your friends more often. Engage in community activities as volunteers to know more about the neighbourhood you live in.

2. Healthy lifestyle

Nutrients that promote brain health
It is important to make sure your daily diet provides sufficient nutrients to the brain, and that you have a balanced diet with appropriate portions. Different categories of food contain different nutrients. Elders can follow the food pyramid to choose various kinds of food and absorb the nutrients the brain and body need.
Although there are all sorts of supplements available in the market, such as anti-oxidants, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acid, which claim to help prevent or alleviate dementia, there is currently no scientific evidence that backs the effect of supplement use on prevention or delay of dementia onset.
  The image is Healthy Eating Food Pyramid for Elderly. Grains: 3 - 5 bowls. Vegetables: at least 3 servings. Fruits: at least 2 servings. Meat, fish, egg and alternatives: 5 - 6 taels. Milk and alternatives: 1 - 2 servings. Fat/oil, salt and sugar: eat the least. Fluid: 6 - 8 glasses
*Sources from : Healthy Eating Food Pyramid for Elderly,DH
Nutrients in food
Carbohydrates Main food source(s)
Grains: congee, porridge, noodles, rice, biscuits, bread;
Root and stem vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, carrots;

Carbohydrates provide calories as a major source of energy for our bodies
Protein Main food source(s)
Meat, fish, seafood, egg, tofu, beans

Proteins function as an essential element to promote cell growth and repair, assist the production of conductive substances for brain nerves and maintain body muscle mass
Omega-3 fatty acid Main food source(s)
Whitefish, catfish, salmon, sardines, tuna, cod, flounder, sea bass and seafood such as oyster, mussels and shrimps
Flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, flaxseed, soybeans, walnuts, almond

Omega-3 fatty acid is an anti-oxidant that can prevent cell inflammation and promotes the heath of cardiovascular system, nervous system and brain
Fibres Main food source(s)
Oats, vegetables, fruits, beans, fungi such as mushroom, jelly ear, as well as algae such as kelp and seaweed

Foods rich in fibres can help control blood lipids and cholesterol and reduce the risk of vascular dementia
Anti-oxidising nutrients:Vitamin A, C, E Main food source(s)
Vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grain wheat

Anti-oxidising nutrients can eliminate free radicals generated from metabolism, protect brain nerves and cells as well as maintain cardiovascular health

Vitamin E assists the production of cell membrane and protects brain nerves and cells
Vitamin B6, folic acid, vitamin B12 Main food source(s)
Vitamin B6: milk, meat, fish, green vegetables and whole grain wheat

Folic acid: livers, green vegetables, beans

Vitamin B12: milk, meat, livers, fish, egg

Vitamin B6 helps produce neurotransmitters

Folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12 protect brain nerves and cells, as well as improve memory

Common dietary and nutrition problems in dementia patients

  • Decreased appetite
  • Decline or change in the sense of taste
  • Forgetting to eat
  • Difficulty using cutlery
  • Difficulty chewing

Dietary recommendations for better appetite:

I. Adjust the texture and viscosity of meals appropriately based on the recommendations from speech therapists (including minced and pureed meals); add an appropriate amount of thickener to adjust the texture when necessary

II. Promote appetite and increase food intake
  • Small frequent meals: Having three meals a day may not provide elders with enough nutrients, small snacks in between is important.
  • Provide high energy foods, such as oats in milk, potato mash, pudding and cream soup, when elders have good appetite (usually during breakfast and lunch)
  • Prepare some instant snacks for consumption anytime
  • Consume clear soups and beverages between meals to avoid appetite affected due to the intake of a large amount of liquid
  • Choose natural seasoning and ingredients in different colours to enhance the taste and aroma

III. Increase calorie and protein intake
  • Add some minced meat, fish, tofu, tofu skin or egg drop to congee
  • Add minced meat and foods high in carbohydrates such as potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and beans to soups
  • Add an appropriate amount of cooking oil when cooking

IV. Integrate supplements in cooking
  • Add nutritional supplements to increase protein and calorie contents as recommended by nutritionists

V. Relax dietary restrictions appropriately
  • Relax the dietary restrictions appropriately and prepare the favourite foods of patients (such as traditional foods, soups and dishes with stronger seasoning) to enhance appetite

VI. Provide ample time and help for patients
  • Arrange for a quiet dining environment and avoid any activities during dining to reduce disturbance
  • Prepare food and simple utensils (such as fork and soup spoon) to assist eating
  • Beware of the food temperature

3. Regular exercise

Exercise stimulates our brains, gives us delight, satisfaction and slows down the speed of nerve cell loss. Try to develop the habit of doing exercise, such as taking a walk for 30 minutes. Even if it is just a stroll, climbing stairs or doing housework, it will serve the purpose of brain training. Moreover, oxygen and glucose are the essential energy for our brain. Exercise can not only increase the blood flow to our brain, but also the overall blood supply.

4. Social activities

Try to take part in social activities more often to prevent social isolation or avoidance. Studies show that people with frequent interactions with family, relatives, neighbours and colleagues tend to have later mental degradation and live longer.

5. Stay cheerful

Studies showed that prolonged exposure to stress hormones will cause extensive death of neurons, which leads to diminishing hippocampus and other regions in the brain. Therefore, we should try to acquire stress management skills, such as relaxation exercise, positive thinking and self-affirmation.

6. Ample sleep

Have plentiful sleep every day and pay attention to sleep quality and environment. Without enough rest, our brain will be unable to regenerate, as well as suffer from memory loss and concentration problems. The risk of stroke will also increase.

7. Abstinence from smoking and drinking

Abstinent from smoking, binge drinking and drug abuse to prevent damage to the biochemical balance mechanism of our brain, which may trigger pathological changes in inner organs or body tissues.

8. Supervision of body weight and blood pressure

Avoid fatty food to lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and diabetes. These conditions will increase the risk of dementia. Keep an eye on your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol level to see if they remain in the standard range. Seek professional help when necessary; do not underestimate the potential threats these complications may bring to the brain.

9. Regular meals

Having regular meals can help reduce nutritional imbalance in the brain. Some studies suggested that the sensation of hunger would trigger irritation and upset. Other studies indicated that breakfast could enhance concentration. Since our brain uses glucose as fuel, and our blood glucose level will reduce after night sleep, having breakfast plays a key role in maintaining brain health.

10. Protecting the brain from external shock

Protect our head to reduce the risk of damage due to accidents.
Source:律敦治及鄧肇堅醫院 - 認知障礙症照顧者手冊
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Last Update: 22/9/2023