Conference is offering food for thought

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As a former head chef of the Sydney Opera House and a former caterer for the Royal family, Peter Morgan Jones appreciates that patrons experiencing his food expect only the best.

And he also knows that it’s not just about the food, it’s about the entire experience.

So his skills were welcomed five years ago when he swapped cooking for celebrities and five-star restaurants to providing nutritious and enjoyable meals for people living in care homes.

“Making every mouthful count is so important,” said Peter, who was born in Wales but who has been based in Australia for the past 20 years.

“Food should look and taste beautiful and enjoying what you eat is so important, particular for those with dementia.”

Peter will be one of the overseas experts who will be joining professionals and professors from Scotland expected at this year’s Alzheimer Scotland’s annual dementia conference.

Taking place on June 2, the event will be a day of discussion, exhibition and debate, exploring big issues like food and drink, as well as the impact of Brexit on international research and collaboration.

Alzheimer Scotland is a leading dementia charity providing support and information for people living with dementia and their families in addition to campaigning for the rights of people with dementia.

The charity’s flagship annual conference, to be held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, will bring together more than 500 delegates and over 40 experts in research, health and care, as well as education and technology.

One such expert will be Professor Craig Ritchie.

As Professor of Psychiatry of Ageing at the University of Edinburgh, he’ll be leading the debate on diet, risk reduction and prevention and, alongside Jean George from Alzheimer Europe, will be shining a light on the potential implications on research funding post-Brexit.

Professor Ritchie leads the European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia (EPAD) Project which is the largest study ever launched globally to develop a much clearer understanding of Alzheimer’s disease in the pre-clinical phase of the condition.

Funded by the European Union to the tune of 64 million Euros, the project’s grant has also led to the employment of 20 researchers and enabled collaboration with some of Europe’s leading academics.

He said: “We’ll be presenting an overview of research we are doing that is already attracting some very good data.

“One of the key things we are working on as part of the European-funded project is trying to understand the risk factors in mid-life.

“Like many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, you can find that the causes have been accumulating over decades.

“We want to really understand the changes taking place in the brain in your 30s and 40s, and the impact of diet, exercise, lifestyle, genetics and a range of other factors.

“If you think about it like the Titanic, had the captain known 200 miles away that there was an iceberg, he would have had time to make a slight change in course and missed the iceberg.

“We want to do that and look at prevention 20 to 30 years ahead.”

As well as informing conference goers about the latest academic research, the event also hopes to separate hope from hype when it comes to nutrition.

Dementia-related media coverage about food and drink has dramatically increased recently with headlines advising us to eat more mushrooms, grapes and blueberries; that chocolate and champagne can help stave off dementia and to both drink and avoid drinking red wine.

Helping to shed a light on the world of food and drink around dementia, researchers and guest presenters will discuss and debate the health and social benefits of nutrition and diet and offer views on risk reduction and prevention.

They will also explore ways to keep meal times both nutritious and enjoyable, with menu suggestions and tips on dignity and dining, plus a live cookery demonstration.

To help tackle the issues, Dr Martha Clare Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist, from Rush University in Chicago will talk about her work on the MIND diet.

Similar to the Mediterranean diet, the MIND diet calls for the daily consumption of fish and three to four daily servings each of fruit and vegetables.

Dr Morris will also explain how this diet could help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and look at strategies for adopting the diet.

Now the executive chef and food ambassador from Hammond Care in Australia, and author of two best-selling books, Peter Jones will be offering ideas on dining with dementia, dignity in dining and menu inspirations.

He also has some inspired ideas for helping to keep food, drink and meal times an important part of every day for people living with dementia and their families.

Speaking from Down Under, Peter said: “Meal times are one of the only times we engage all our senses. As well as taste, we use sight, smell and touch, and listen to what’s around us. It’s an engaging experience.

“But for people with dementia, meal times can also be a time of anxiety; they may not be able to understand a knife and fork for example. So it’s about getting it right for each person.

“People in their 70s and 80s with dementia need more protein than people in their 40s and 50s. That extra protein can act as a buffer during spells of illness and time in hospitals.

“I will also be offering ideas about bringing dignity back to eating.

“For example, if someone can’t use a knife and fork, food like yogurt can be thickened so it can be eaten as finger food.”

Chris Lynch, deputy director of communications and marketing at Alzheimer Scotland, said: “Dementia is a global issue and I am delighted that we have so many high profile speakers to help us get to the heart of the big issues facing the dementia community in 2017, sharing insights, experiences and results.

“We also welcome many people living with dementia and their carers to the conference, sharing and commentating and asking difficult questions about progress from the experts gathered.

“The diverse programme means that everyone attending will take away new ideas and inspiration for their work in the field.”