Service users with a diagnosis of dementia are being inspired to follow a Mediterranean-style diet, which research studies have shown may slow down the progression of their condition.
The Brain Food project was the idea of Anna Betz, a lead practitioner with the Camden Memory Service, who has been working with Dr Claudia Cooper, a Camden Memory Service consultant and UCL researcher.
Dr Cooper explained: “A large Finnish trial recently showed that when experts worked intensively with people at risk of dementia to encourage a healthy diet, alongside physical and cognitive exercises and more social activities, their memory problems improved.”
Anna holds a series of five workshops three or four times a year for service users to experiment with different foods and to experience the benefits on their health.
She explained: “At each session we have a topic (How to start the day, The role of carbohydrates, The role of fats) and I bring along food to share.
“We talk through the challenges of where to buy the food, how it can be adapted to suit people’s lifestyle. I try to make each session a rich, sensory experience that persuades people by inspiring them, rather than telling them, to make small changes that have real impact.”
Anna’s recommended diet is one that cuts out refined carbohydrates and trans fats, is low in carbohydrates, and high in good protein (lean meat, fish, nuts, seeds) and fresh vegetables. It should include whole carbohydrates and plenty of oily fish, nuts and seeds.
One service user with a dementia diagnosis, who adopted the new way of eating, found her scores on the memory test improved and then stayed the same over the next two years. Others have improved their cholesterol levels and generally feel that they have more energy.
Dr Cooper, whose team is now working with University College London on carrying out research into the effect of the Brain Food project, said: “People with dementia are at high risk of malnutrition so diet is really important to think about when caring for them.”
This initiative is just one of many innovations taking place at Cavendish Square Group member trusts across London, designed to meet the challenge of an ageing population and supporting the needs of people living with dementia.