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How Sugar Impacts the Aging Brain

By Mary-Frances Walsh, 8:00 am on

It’s no secret that Americans are consuming significantly more sugar than generations past. In fact, Psychology Today reports the average adult eats between two and three pounds per week. The physical effects of this empty-calorie food can include weight gain and even diabetes. Research also shows high amounts of sugar can negatively affect the brain, especially in senior’s, an age group already at higher risk of conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

As a trusted Sonoma County senior care provider, our caregivers always encourage and help our clients to eat healthy, well balanced diets. This post will share how sugar, which often hides in in many packaged convenience foods, can put your senior loved one at risk, while also providing information on what you can do to help.

Effects on the Brain

When the body processes sugar, glucose (blood sugar) levels can increase, thereby activating the hypothalamus in the brain. Overall, the brain treats sugar as if it were an invasive like a virus. This sort of response places wear-and-tear on the brain, thereby decreasing long-term cognitive abilities. Refined sugar may even affect short-term memory.

The Evidence

A recent 2012 study, involving 1,230 seniors between 70 and 89 years old, found a strong link between food choices and cognitive impairment. The study concluded a high-sugar diet increased the risk of cognitive issues 1.5 times more than participants whose diets were low in sugar.

Ways to Cut Down

Given the adverse impacts on the brain, it’s important for seniors to cut down on sugar. You can help your loved one reduce overall sugar intake by taking the following steps:

  • Eliminate soda
  • Drink only 100% juice (in limited quantities)
  • Choose unsweetened tea instead of sweet tea
  • Refrain from “low-fat” packaged foods (often contain more sugar and sodium)

Looking at nutrition labels can also provide clues into sugar content. Accompany your loved one on his or her trips to the grocery store to help identify good vs. bad foods, or consider hiring a part-time caregiver in Sonoma County who can assist during the times you are unavailable. Examples of hidden sources of sugar to look for in the ingredients list include:

  • Corn sweetener/syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • Honey
  • Maltose
  • Molasses
  • Sucrose

Eating sugar doesn’t automatically mean older adults will develop cognitive issues, but cutting down can act as a preventative measure, offering a level of protection for the aging brain.

For more information about senior brain health, contact Home Care Assistance of Sonoma County. Along with Alzheimer’s and dementia care, we offer a one-of-a-kind in-home program for seniors, The Cognitive Therapeutics Method, which helps to promote brain health, cognitive functioning and social ties. Call an experienced Care Manager at 707-843-4368 to find out if home care is the right choice for your aging loved one.