The sense of taste is commonly altered or lost during dementia progression. Interestingly only the taste of sweetness seems to remain even in later stages. It creates a craving, and often caregivers and care facilities seek to placate the person and give them too many sugary “treats.”
It is essential to be aware of how excess sugar negatively affects the body and how many of the challenges caring for a person with dementia could be sugar-related.
BRAIN: Why do any of us like sweet deserts? Well, it gives our brain a shot of dopamine, the feel-good neurochemical. Eventually, you get “hooked” on the pleasurable feeling sugar gives you, and you crave more and more.
So, if a person has lost the taste of food except for sweet, which foods would they crave?
MOOD: A person’s mood lifts when sugar levels rise, but the sudden drop often leaves them jittery, anxious, or drowsy. High sugar intake and the resulting sugar slump can lead to depression in adults.
Keeping a person with dementia out of depression is essential. When they are on a roller coaster of mood swings because of sugar highs and lows, this becomes a lot more difficult.
IMMUNE SYSTEM: Processed sugar lowers immune responses and leaves the person susceptible to illness and with less ability to recuperate.
JOINTS: Sugar is inflammatory, and if your loved one has arthritis, sweet processed foods increase joint inflammation, escalating pain while decreasing their mobility and developing a risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
SKIN: Sugar creates proteins in your bloodstream that age skin. Most elderly have “thin skin,” which bruise and bleed easily. Avoiding sugar helps keep their skin healthier.
TEETH: Sugar causes tooth decay, and a toothache can increase dementia symptoms causing out of control behavior or prevent them from eating; not to mention how traumatic trips to the dentist are.
PANCREAS: This organ pumps insulin after ingesting sugar. Too much creates an overproduction of insulin, and eventually, the pancreas stops responding, which leads to diabetes. Blood sugar rises also stiffens the artery walls stressing the heart, resulting in a risk of stroke or heart attack.
Research has shown less sugar intake can lower blood pressure.
LIVER: Sugar glucose has to be broken down by the liver. An excess is damaging, developing a fatty build-up that scars the liver and cuts off its blood supply, creating cirrhosis and liver disease.
Many of those with dementia are taking several medications daily, which are hard on the liver and kidneys, which have to filter toxins from the blood. When their already over-worked liver also has to contend with excess sugar, they risk developing liver disease.
KIDNEYS: Kidneys filter blood, but with high sugar levels, the excess is sent to your urine. Uncontrolled sugar intake leads to diabetes, which damages the function of filtering waste from your blood resulting in kidney failure.
Those with dementia balk at water, and keeping them hydrated is a daily challenge. This combination of dehydration, medications, and excess sugar is likely to lead to kidney damage and urinary problems.
WEIGHT: The more sugar consumed, the more pounds you put on. Excess sugar inflames fat cells, causing weight gain. Dementia usually leads to increased immobility, and adding sugar to their diet is a recipe for obesity, which leads to a multitude of other problems.
Fruits are the best substitute for sugary foods. Combine colorful fruits in small bowls allowing them to snack on these. Make fruit deserts, add fruit on their plates at most meals, and opt for sugar-free foods that are better choices for those with dementia.
Sugar isn’t the only cause of problems with a person with dementia, but it certainly isn’t beneficial.