Elderly nutrition for brain fitness is a very important concern for me at age 64.
I am a parent of an 14 year old boy and a 8 year old girl and a husband to a lovely 45 year old woman, and I have noticed those changes that come with being my age, like word recall issues.
I am a bit dismayed at the kind of information out there for us Boomers and elderly nutrition. That information all seems to point to a pathology which results from aging, and seems to indicate that at some point I am going to need someone to monitor my eating and nutrition. I guess I better go make some whole grain bread now so that I will have it available for when I forget how.
Luckily for us there is a huge amount of new information available about nutrition and brain fitness and things I can do to make sure I am still functioning effectively, not perfectly, but effectively all the way out to the end.
I grew up in a meat and potato family. We had a big roast or meat based meals often when I was a kid, and almost always on Sunday when I was little, and the smell of roast or bread or any other of the foods mom cooked when I was little evoke a powerful feeling of nostalgia, so we know food is an emotional issue.
However, right now I am concerned with elderly nutrition for performance as a parent and a business man and a husband and as clinician. I am not going to be content to wait for life to pass me by. And I am hungry after I workout.
So I eat to keep my brain fit, and I exercise to keep my brain fit, and maybe I can be like 74 year old Ironman triathelete James Ward.
At age 74, James R. Ward set a record as the oldest finisher ever of the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon. In the Ironman, James swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and ran 26.2 miles nonstop in 16 hours and 10 minutes.
I also am inspired by 88 and 82 year old Bill and Pat who you can find about half way down the page that this link takes you to. Bill and Pat are exercising to make the rigors of their travel schedule less difficult.
I really like what Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D. have to say about nutrition for brain fitness in their book Brainfit of Life. They are neuroscientists who have culled neuroscientific research for tidbits that are very helpful for us, and they are writing for folks my age who want to age well.
For example, this is what Evans and Burghardt have to say about carbohydrates;
"Carbohydrates Are Brain Fuel
Carbohydrates are your main source of energy for your
brain. In fact, the brain relies almost exclusively on energy
derived from carbohydrates so you should consider them an
important part of your brain-friendly diet. They are chains of
sugars that are broken down and used to make the currency of
your body’s energy, a molecule called ATP. There is much
disagreement among the diet gurus about how many
carbohydrates to eat, ranging from about 40% to about 80% of
your total calories. Frankly, different diet plans will work for
different people but it is becoming clear that you should at
pay attention to the type of carbohydrates that you eat since not
all carbohydrates are created equal.
Carbohydrates line up along the glycemic index scale,
which is a measure of how fast your body breaks them down
and releases them into the blood as sugar. The faster they spike
your blood sugar, the higher the glycemic index number. The
scale runs from 0 to 100, the high end of which is defined by
100% glucose (your brain relies exclusively on glucose for
energy, but you want to provide it in a low-glycemic,
A high glycemic diet has been shown to
increase markers of oxidative stress by cranking up the energy
production machinery too quickly. So paying attention to this
alone, will go a long way toward protecting yourself from this
damaging process. Your body and your brain will perform
much better if you eat carbohydrates that have a low glycemic
index and raise your blood sugar slowly and steadily. These are
mostly fruits, vegetables and whole grain products."
For us Boomers and Seniors, that means get rid of processed foods. We cannot eat from the box if we hope to eat low on the glycemic scale, and it means we need to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
Not sure about you, but I love to use a slow cooker to make stews and soups, which include lots of vegetables and meats, and provide me the opportunity to have portions or meals in individual meal sized containers so that when I do not have the time or inclination to cook, I have healthy meals available in portion sized amounts.
More from Evans and Burghardt about nutrition for brain fitness.
"Micronutrients Are The Unsung Heroes
The other major components of nutrition are
micronutrients. These are typically much smaller than the
macronutrients (although not always) and are the vitamins,
minerals and other small molecule nutrients that your body
needs for its daily duties. Today we know of 13 essential
vitamins, meaning you cannot make these vitamins from
scratch and have to get them from your diet. You must also
obtain all of the minerals that you need from your diet. Some
we require in large amounts, like Calcium, Sodium and
Potassium. Others, called trace minerals, we require in smaller
amounts, like Zinc, Copper and Manganese. A high quality
multi-vitamin / multi-mineral can help you get all of these in
the appropriate doses.
So what do micronutrients actually do? The answer to
this question is the subject of volumes of text books, so again,
rather than provide an entire thesis on nutrition, we’ll stick to
some basic concepts. In general, micronutrients are supporting
actors in most of the hundreds of thousands of processes that
go on in all of your cells, all of the time. While the
macronutrients play the starring roles in your biochemistry,
they wouldn’t get much done without the micronutrients.
One major role that many micronutrients play is acting
as antioxidants to help minimize oxidative damage and
oxidative stress, which we previously discussed. Many
vitamins have antioxidant properties to halt free radicals in
their tracks. If you remember, free radicals sometimes escape
from the energy production process to start a chain reaction of
electron stealing that can cause damage. Antioxidants have
extra electrons to donate to the free radicals so they never get
started on their rampage through the cell.
It’s very important to provide a variety of antioxidants
so they are always available in different parts of your cells and
tissues to halt oxidative stress. Some do a better job in fat
tissue, others are better inside the water part of cells, and
others do better floating around in the blood. This is why variety is key. In fact, the color of fruits and vegetables
type of vitamins and antioxidants they contain. If you strive to
eat different colored fruits and vegetables every day you will
help provide a variety of antioxidant protection.
Many foods, particularly unprocessed foods, contain all
three macronutrients and many micronutrients, so they will
contribute some portion of what our bodies need. However,
you should try to be aware of what you are eating, even if you
think you are eating ‘healthy’ or ‘organic’ because this doesn’t
necessarily mean you are getting a good balance of nutrients.
Processed or refined foods are particularly tricky. They can be
super-tasty, have a freakishly long shelf life, or be some
incredible color never seen naturally on this planet. But in most
cases they have had most of the nutritional value removed by
the manufacturing process. Fortified processed foods can be
especially misleading. Often times the food has most of the
vitamins and minerals stripped out of them, then with a few of
them added back earns the label, ‘fortified’. Relying heavily on
these sources of food can get you into trouble."
Elderly nutrition can be hampered by poor dental health, or lack of money, and/or transportation, but we can over come those issues with some planning.
Michael Merzenich and the Posit Science folks have put together a very useful tool for Seniors and the Elderly that lets us practice the visual skills necessary for driving, at home on your computer.
Of course, not having a computer would make this kind of practice difficult.
However, if you do have a computer, take a look at this program.
And if you have not read of Merzenich's work on brain fitness for Seniors, you must read the IMPACT study published in April of 2009. Over 500 folks 65 and over put his program to the test, and both the researchers and the participants were very surprised at positive impact of the Posit Science Program.