It’s a cruel disease that affects millions of people across the world.
But four in 10 dementia cases can be prevented through lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating, getting enough exercise and good quality sleep, according to experts.
In a bid to reduce rates of dementia, US researchers created a diet that has been shown to preserve brain health and slash the risk of the memory-robbing disease.
The MIND diet is packed with fish, pulses and veggies, which is thought to delay and limit decline in cognitive function.
Here, MailOnline breaks down what foods you should be including in your diet to keep your brain healthy.
Tracy Parker, Heart Health dietician at the British Heart Foundation has devised a meal plan that follows the MIND diet. She recommends a breakfast of porridge, lentil salad for lunch and a fish pie for dinner
The best way to avoid dementia and Alzheimer’s is to eat healthy food, take regular exercise, not smoke and maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels
Researchers at Rush University in Chicago identified the MIND in 2015, which is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.
The Mediterranean diet highlights the importance of wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, fish and pulses, while the DASH focuses on reducing salt intake.
Tracy Parker, heart health dietician at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: ‘Both diets are backed by lots of research showing they can help your heart health, and some evidence to suggest they can contribute to lower levels of mental decline.’
But the MIND diet has shown even greater effects than either diet alone.
Dr Martha Clare Morris and colleagues at Rush University Medical Center and the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, followed a group of more than 1,000 older adults who were free of dementia for nine years.
The diet that will cut your risk of dementia
Tracy Parker, Heart Health dietician at the British Heart Foundation has devised a meal plan that follows the MIND diet.
A great example of a breakfast from the MIND diet is porridge, one of the BHF’s top choices for a heart healthy breakfast.
All porridge oats are wholegrains and they all contain a soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which can help lower your cholesterol level if you have 3g or more of it daily, as part of a healthy diet.
You could also add berries to your porridge, which may also have brain protective benefits.
The diet encourages eating more plant-based proteins like nuts and pulses, such as beans, peas and lentils.
A delicious warm lentil salad with fennel, apple, avocado and walnuts can be found through our recipe finder on the BHF website.
Swapping red and processed meat for these plant-based proteins will help lower the saturated fat in your diet, while boosting your fibre intake, which can help lower your cholesterol.
Our fish pie with carrot and cauliflower mash is a hearty and brain healthy meal that includes fish and vegetables, both part of the MIND diet.
Mashed carrots and cauliflower on top means this pie will contribute to your five-a-day, as well as to the two portions of fish we’re recommended to eat each week.
You can use salmon instead of white fish to get the heart-health benefits of oily fish.
They developed a MIND diet score based on foods that seemed to protect against dementia and cognitive decline. Those with the highest MIND score had the slowest rate of cognitive decline.
The diet involves eating at least three services of wholegrains, such as oats, quinoa and brown rice, every day.
Those following it will also need to consume a minimum of six portions of leafy green vegetables, five servings of nuts, four of beans and two of berries.
Ms Parker said: ‘Berries such as strawberries, blueberries and blackberries also have many brain protective benefits.’
At least two servings of poultry and one of fish is recommended.
Meanwhile, red meat, fried food and sweets should be avoided.
Experts say these foods contain high levels of antioxidants, which help protect against some of the damage to brain cells which is associated with dementia.
They can also increase the levels of proteins in the brain that protect brain cells from this damage, says Alzheimer’s Society.
The diet is low in cholesterol, which recent research has suggested may be associated with memory and thinking problems.
Dementia is linked with an abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain, called amyloid and tau.
When these toxic proteins build-up in the brain, the organ launches an inflammatory response to keep the damage at bay.
But diets such as MIND, which are packed with vegetables and fruit high in antioxidants, can reduce inflammation, according to Harvard School of Public Health.
The diet, recommended by Ms Parker, contains vitamins such as vitamin C, E and beta-carotene, which all act as antioxidants.
These antioxidants help prevent disruption and damage caused by free-radicals, which contribute to brain ageing, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.
Although they are not always harmful, they can damage proteins, DNA, cell membranes and cause tissue damage and inflammation.
The charity says the brains of people with Alzheimer’s have higher levels of natural antioxidants which are thought to be responsible for ‘clearing up’ excess free radicals, suggesting the brain is trying to combat damage.
So, therefore eating more antioxidants can help battle free radicles and prevent damage, experts say.
Studies of the diet in people living in retirement communities suggest that those who most closely follow it have brains that are equivalent to seven-and-a-half years youngers compared to those who don’t.
Although it could have brain boosting powers there is not enough research yet for the MIND diet to be part of national dietary guidelines, says Ms Parker.
She said: ‘We need further studies to refine the specific foods and quantities included.’
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, in which build-up of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.
This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages, and causes the brain to shrink.
More than 5 million people suffer from the disease in the US, where it is the 6th leading cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons have it.
As brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost.
That includes memory, orientation and the ability to think and reason.
The progress of the disease is slow and gradual.
On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some may live for ten to 15 years.
- Loss of short-term memory
- Behavioral changes
- Mood swings
- Difficulties dealing with money or making a phone call
- Severe memory loss, forgetting close family members, familiar objects or places
- Becoming anxious and frustrated over inability to make sense of the world, leading to aggressive behavior
- Eventually lose ability to walk
- May have problems eating
- The majority will eventually need 24-hour care
Source: Alzheimer’s Association