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Coping with cravings in a person with dementia

Re:Cognition Health’s Top Tips to cut back on sugar and improve eating habits of those with dementia

It’s not uncommon for a person with dementia to experience an increase in cravings for sugary foods, leading to consumption of excessive quantities of sweets, chocolate and cakes. According to Alzheimer’s Association, taste buds can diminish when the disease takes hold. Researchers believe the brain produces insulin, like the pancreas and insulin levels in the brain can drop, causing cravings. This could also lead to weight gain and unhealthy eating patterns. Recent studies have also shown that as dementia progresses, it attacks part of the brain responsible for self-restraint in our diets.

Many experts now believe there is a clear link between Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease and a recent study published in the journal, Scientific Reports, identified biological links between dementia and high blood sugar. Alzheimer’s Society says that diabetes could double a person’s risk of developing dementia. The World Health Organization recommends we eat no more than 6 teaspoons or 24g of sugar daily.

Dr Emer MacSweeney, CEO and Medical Director at Re:Cognition Health is passionate about diagnosis and treating people with dementia and cites sugar as key problem amongst patients. ‘Cutting back on sugar will undoubtedly benefit all of us, helping to manage our health and prevent weight gain, which can also be a risk factor for vascular dementia’.

Re:Cognition Health shares eight simple ways to cut back on sugar:

Recalibrate your taste buds – Sugar is addictive. “The more we eat, the more we want,” says Lily Soutter, a nutritionist for Nuffield Health. “By going cold turkey for a month you can recalibrate your taste buds and cravings will subside.”

Detox your home – Make sure there are no tempting sugary treats in the house or in your office at work. If you don’t have any biscuits or chocolate, you won’t be able to eat them. “Out of sight really is out of mind,” says Lily.

Curb cravings with fruit – “Whizzing some berries in a blender with natural yogurt and seeds will help,” says Lily. “It’s a low sugar snack to curb those cravings.”

Eat protein and healthy fats at every meal – “These are great for balancing blood sugar levels,” says Lily. “They keep you fuller for longer, prevent energy dips and reduce sugar cravings. Examples include fish, nuts, seeds, tofu, avocado, cold-pressed oils, beans and pulses.”

Try cinnamon – “A teaspoon of cinnamon a day keeps the cravings away,” says Lily. “Numerous studies have shown that it can reduce sugar cravings by controlling blood glucose levels. Try adding 1 tsp of Ceylon cinnamon to your diet each day.”

Ditch fizzy drinks – These can contain 9 tea spoons or more of sugar and be wary of fruit juice too, while some smoothies can contain more.

Be careful of natural and artificial sweeteners – Natural sweeteners like honey and fruit juice still contain sugar, while artificial options do nothing to reduce our sugar cravings.

Get more sleep – “Studies have shown that a lack of sleep may cause us to eat 300-400 calories the next day,” says Lily. “In order to keep sugar levels high we tend to choose sugary quick fixes. Just one extra hour of sleep per night can increase leptin, the hormone that suppresses appetite.”

How to control cravings and improve eating habits in a person with dementia:

• Don’t overstock the house with too many chocolates or biscuits – temptation will always be there. Try to encourage the person to eat lots of fruit snacks so that they can enjoy sweet foods that won’t lead to weight gain. Chop up fruit if need be to make it easy to eat.

• Make sure you have lots of healthy snacks to hand – eating smaller meals more often may be a good idea to avoid the person getting hungry and large meals may be off-putting in any case.

• Distract and deflect – if the person has had a lot of sugary foods and asks for more, offer them a cup of tea instead and they may well forget about the cravings.

• Encourage the person to stay hydrated – thirst can be mistaken for hunger and water regulates many body functions, so encourage the person to drink water at regular intervals.

• Avoid mealtime distractions – a noisy environment where there are lots of people bustling around can result in the person becoming easily distracted and not finishing their food. Try to seat the person in a quiet space during mealtimes.

• Eat meals together – encourage the person with dementia to eat with you so that you can monitor their eating habits and also provide some company. Eating proper meals regularly will be more likely to reduce cravings for sugary foods later on.

• Make eating easier – try a blue plate rather than a white plate, as food will stand out better on a blue plate. That way, the person will be more likely to identify and see what’s in front of them.

• Share puddings and sweet treats – if the person is in the mood for a sugary pudding or chocolate bar, share it between you, so that they don’t eat too much.

www.re-cognitionhealth.com

About Re:Cognition Health

Re:Cognition Health was established in 2011 to provide a specialist service in the neurological assessment and imaging of cognitive impairment, neurovascular diseases and traumatic brain injury, including the provision medico-legal expert opinion. The Re:Cognition Clinics in London, Essex, Surrey and Plymouth are also major centres for international trials of disease-modifying and new symptomatic drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions.

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