Having a family member get diagnosed with dementia can be a troubling time for everyone involved. For those diagnosed, it can be a devastating life change to endure. And if you’re the child of someone diagnosed, you not only have to process the hit of the diagnosis itself, but also the potential worries of what it may mean for your health later down the road as well.
It’s important to note that dementia isn’t actually as hereditary as some people may assume. While it is possible to pass it to children or grandchildren, most dementia cases are not inherited.
When it comes to vascular dementia, it’s very unlikely that parents can pass it down to their children, however, it is possible. It’s more likely that they would pass a specific gene related to the illness, or pass down some common risk factors of dementia—like diabetes or high blood pressure.
For frontotemporal dementia patients, it is possible to pass it down to your offspring. According to The Alzheimer’s Societyabout 40% of those who develop this type of dementia will have a family member that develops dementia as well.
So while it is quite possible for you to never get dementia even if one of your parents does, it is still important to care for your brain and eat foods that can help improve your overall brain health.
Here’s what our dietitians say are some of the best foods to eat if dementia runs in your family. And for more healthy eating tips, check out The Best Foods for Your Brain After 50.
If dementia runs in your family or you fear that it may, it’s important to get enough healthy fats like omega-3s in your diet on a consistent basis.
“Roughly 60% of the brain is made of fat, and half that amount is omega-3 type fats,” says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD at Balance One Supplements. “It has been found that omega-3 rich foods can help prevent cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s and slow mental decline. The brain also requires omega-3 fat to make nerve cells, which are vital to memory and one’s ability to learn.”
If you’re wondering what foods you should avoid or limit, you may want to watch your consumption of red meat, processed meat, and other processed food.
“I recommend limiting your intake of red meat and processed foods, as they are inflammatory and may increase the likelihood of plaque in the brain that can contribute to dementia,” says Dana Ellis Hunnes PhD, MPH, RD, author of Recipe For Survival.
In fact, animal research from Ohio State University has shown that consuming processed foods on a regular basis can lead to faster memory loss in aging populations. The same findings mention that replacing these foods with options high in omega-3s (as mentioned above) can significantly help improve your brain health.
Along with eating plenty of healthy fats and avoiding highly-processed foods, getting enough B vitamins can help boost your brain health.
“Ensuring adequate intake of b-vitamins (thiamin, B12, etc) is crucial because they can be related to neurological (including the brain) changes,” says Hunnes.
For example, one recent study found that deficiency in vitamin B12 could contribute to lower cognitive function. You can find B12 in most animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs. If you don’t eat meat products, you can always supplement with a B12 pill.
Yep, berries are good for your brain and can be a nice snack for those who are concerned that dementia runs in their family.
“Berries are thought to be among the healthiest foods for your brain because of their antioxidants and high levels of anthocyanins (plant nutrients),” says Hunnes.
One study found that young and older adults who consumed blueberries had better memory and attention, as well as better blood flow to the brain.
They also found that elderly adults who regularly ate strawberries and blueberries had more improved memory than those who didn’t eat the berries.