Home > Dementia risk, Dining, Dysphagia, Prevention > Chewing and Dementia Risk

Chewing and Dementia Risk

As a speech pathologist, I was quite interested to read that Swedish researchers have recently discovered a connection between chewing ability and risk for development of dementia.  According to the study’s results, people who have greater difficulty chewing hard foods, like apples, will have a greater chance of developing dementia.

Previous research has suggested that people of any age become smarter when they chew more.  A study completed by researchers from the Bayor College of Medicine showed that university students who chewed gum had better standardized math scores than those who did not.  Other research has pointed to a link between not having teeth and losing cognitive function more rapidly.

The physical act of chewing increases blood flow to the brain.  If a person has few or no teeth, he will chew less, which causes a reduction in this flow, and this observation led researchers to hypothesize that decreased chewing led to increased dementia risk.  A team from the Department of Odontology and the Aging Research Center at the Karolinska Institute, and from Karlstad University, collected and examined data from 557 people aged 77 years or older.  They found an association between chewing ability and the development of cognitive impairments, even after they factored out such things as education, mental health, sex, and age.  Whether the person had natural teeth or dentures also made no difference.

To me, this points out the importance of maintaining the chewing ability of my elderly patients.  Often, when a person has poor teeth, or has difficulty chewing his food, those of us working in long-term care often will suggest that he switch to a softer diet, for both comfort and for safety.  But, upon reading this study, I wonder if it might be better to try to strengthen those muscles of mastication, and find other strategies, to enable the person to continue to enjoy a “regular” diet, if at all possible.  Hmmm.  I wonder.

  1. October 14, 2012 at 5:43 PM

    Wow, this is incredible! I had no idea chewing (or not being able to chew things like apples) was an indication of getting dementia. Interestingly, I have had trouble chewing apples all my life! It also goes with my intuitive belief the ‘slop’ served to the eldderly in residential care homes is not just unap[pealing, but unhealthy because of there being no need to chew.
    As always, thanks for your posts.

    • October 14, 2012 at 8:07 PM

      Well, as I said, this came as a bit of a surprise to me as well. It will definitely make me think a little harder before recommending that a person switch to a softer diet. I would like to see some more research done to quantify this a bit more.

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