Saturday, August 9, 2014

Did Malnutrition Make Dad's Dementia Worse?

It has been shown that malnutrition in the elderly can lead to fatigue, depression, muscle weakness, weakened bone health and immune system, anemia, weight loss, and heart problems. Poor nutrition also obviously leads to a decrease in much-needed vitamins and minerals. Malnutrition in the elderly often happens when they are living alone and are either too weak or uninterested in feeding themselves properly, or have medical issues that keep them from eating. Although it is starting to get more attention, and more articles are being written, many people still don’t know about the connection between poor nutrition and dementia.

Poor nutrition not only worsens the symptoms of dementia, but increases the chance of an Alzheimer's sufferer needing hospitalization or institutionalization. One study that looked at institutionalized patients with dementia found that fifty percent of them had calorie or protein malnutrition. Malnutrition can make the symptoms of dementia worse for people unfortunate enough to have this condition; people with dementia who are undernourished may experience a rapid worsening of their dementia and their health.

When I realized that there was something seriously wrong with Dad, and that I couldn’t be in denial anymore, it was partly because I became aware of how he was living and what he was eating. His house was dark, cold, and messy, and he had evidently largely been eating carbohydrates. Dad has always suffered from depression and I can only guess that eating bread sandwiches (bread with a bread filling), chips, potato salad, cookies, crackers, and pop was his body’s way of helping that, since carbs can temporarily improve depression.

I felt so bad when I saw what he was doing, and even worse when I realized the many layers of clothing he was wearing masked a very thin frame. Dad has always been naturally skinny, but he had lost a lot more weight. I don’t know whether the poor eating had helped cause the cognitive issues I was seeing or whether the cognitive issues lead to malnutrition, but either way, he was in danger. When I took him to the doctor, she diagnosed him with a serious B12 deficiency, which was the first time I heard about that vitamins connection to dementia.

Researchers have discovered that deficient vitamin B12 levels correspond to both a decline in cognitive ability and a decrease in brain volume. Brain atrophy (a loss of cells that causes areas of the brain to actually become smaller) has been clearly identified as one of the physical effects of Alzheimer's disease. A deficiency in this essential vitamin can cause dementia, as well as depression, bipolar disorder, nerve damage and anemia. For dementia patients, if a Vitamin B12 deficiency is prolonged, reversal may be impossible. If the deficiency is caught in time, it may be reversed, and cognitive abilities approved markedly.

Now I urge the people I meet who are just starting to notice cognitive problems in their loved ones to assess their nutrition and have a doctor check their levels of B12 and other essential vitamins and minerals. Some of the cognitive issues they are seeing could be completely reversed, at least temporarily. Dementia symptoms don’t automatically mean Alzheimer’s; there are many other factors that can be ruled out first. I still wish that I had been braver about dealing with what was going on with Dad. Perhaps the cognitive decline could have been reversed somewhat, or slowed down – I’ll never really know.

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  1. It is found that many people with conditions such as Alzheimer's disease are seeing their illness get worse because of defective nutrition and lack of maintenance.Not entirely for this, a balanced diet is important for keeping a sound health. Malnutrition can cause a severe impact on the symptoms of dementia and I guess you need to bring more attention on your Dad's death.

  2. sorry, your Dad's health.

  3. It has to be. There was a nightmare period in 2012 we went through where MIL had abdominal surgery, and had to be goaded to eat anything. She was definitely worst during this time than normally...


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