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By Rafael Guimaraes de Lima E Silva

According to the Centers for Disease Control in 2020, almost 6 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease, and this number is predicted to reach more than 14 million in 2060 (CDC, 2023). As we age, we need to be concerned not only with our physical health but also with our mental health. According to another CDC study, confusion or memory loss combined with chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease can make independence more difficult for older adults. Therefore, healthy behaviors are necessary to prevent serious health problems and avoidable hospitalizations (CDC, 2023). Let’s look at how chronic conditions can affect cognition and some evidence showing how nutrition can help improve brain health.

Chronic Conditions

Results published by the Innovation in Aging Journal showed that chronic conditions can impair the functional limitation of older adults, especially for individuals with subjective cognitive decline (SCD). Furthermore, the study suggests an association between cognitive impairment and heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease (Taylor et al., 2020). Despite this, less than half of adults with SCD and a chronic condition had visited a health professional (Taylor et al., 2020).

The CDC has published healthy behavior recommendations to control chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension and improve cognition in older adults. (CDC, 2023). Preventing and managing high blood pressure, preventing and managing high cholesterol, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling blood sugar are a few of the behaviors that can be helped with good nutrition (CDC, 2023).

Nutrition Behavior

Nutrition behavior is a key component to improving cognition in older adults. A study by Spencer et al., 2017 showed that consuming foods high in saturated fat and low in omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids can impair neural activity, resulting in impaired cognition. Meanwhile, fruits and vegetables can prevent and reverse age-related cognitive deficits by lowering oxidative stress and inflammation (Spencer et al., 2017). Therefore, the study by Gu & Scarmeas, 2011, suggests that the diet of older adults needs to be rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and legumes along with reduced intake of meat, high-fat dairy products, and sweets.

Multivitamin Supplementation

In addition to nutrient-dense foods, multivitamin supplementation can be a safe and affordable alternative for maintaining cognitive health. A study with 3,562 older adults, published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that supplementation improved memory in older adults compared to the placebo  (Yeung et al., 2023). Before choosing a supplement, consult with your medical provider or a registered dietitian nutritionist to help you pick the most appropriate supplement for you.



Gu, Y., & Scarmeas, N. (2011). Dietary patterns in Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive aging. Current Alzheimer Research, 8(5), 510–519. doi:10.2174/156720511796391836

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, January 12) Healthy body, healthier brain. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Spencer, S. J., Korosi, A., Layé, S., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Barrientos, R. M. (2017). Food for thought: how nutrition impacts cognition and emotion. Npj Science of Food, 1(1), 7. doi:10.1038/s41538-017-0008-y

Taylor, C. A., Bouldin, E. D., Greenlund, K. J., & McGuire, L. C. (2020). Comorbid chronic conditions among older adults with subjective Cognitive Decline, United States, 2015-2017. Innovation in Aging, 4(1), igz045. doi:10.1093/geroni/igz045

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, January 7).  What is Alzheimer’s disease?. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Yeung, L.-K., Alschuler, D. M., Wall, M., Luttmann-Gibson, H., Copeland, T., Hale, C., … Brickman, A. M. (2023). Multivitamin supplementation improves memory in older adults: a randomized clinical trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. doi:10.1016/j.ajcnut.2023.05.011

Rafael Guimaraes de Lima E Silva is a Graduate Student in Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels