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'What foods will you feed me?'

Remember the Beatles song, "Will you still need me "… will you still feed me "… when I'm 64?' It seemed so far away then — and, now here it is. I listened to that song as a teenager — and now I'm singing it to myself.

Let's replay that "will you still feed me" line." No, try this one instead — "I could be handy "… mending a fuse "… when your lights are gone." (Can you hear me humming it as I type?)

Years ago I would have interpreted these musical phrases quite differently. But this has been a sobering week on multiple levels, and right now I'm thinking, who does feed you when your "lights are gone." And what do they feed you?

It's been a week where a convergence of friends and family members (all in the vicinity of age 64) have been experiencing memory challenges. In one circumstance there was an actual dementia diagnosis. In another case, it's likely to occur. I am looking for ways to provide assistance and support. So when I read a recent Tufts University Health and Nutrition newsletter article (www.tuftshealthletter.com) indicating scientists are actively exploring an anti-Alzheimer's diet, I was captivated.

At Columbia University Medical Center, researchers have found "epidemiological evidence linking diet and the risk of Alzheimer's disease." A team of researchers examined the diets of 2,148 older adults over an average of four years. The participants were assessed for dementia every 18 months. The study was controlled for other aspects of lifestyle so their conclusions contained a fairly accurate picture of dietary impact.

This is what they found. One particular dietary pattern was highly associated with a reduced risk of dementia. The foods eaten included "nuts, fish, poultry, fruits and cruciferous and dark-green, leafy vegetables. (Those "cruciferous" veggies, such as broccoli, are jammed with antioxidants and beta carotene.) The "protected" group ate lots of those and very little high-fat dairy, red meat, organ meat or butter."

If you want to bring a care package to someone struggling with cognitive decline, now you know what to include.

It was sobering to me when I read 253 individuals from that original Columbia University sample developed Alzheimer's Disease over the course of the study. If you go to the www.alz.org website you will find confirming data about the overwhelming challenges of this disease and the impact it will have as the population ages. Researchers project "13.2 million older Americans will have Alzheimer's disease (AD) by 2050 unless new ways are found to prevent or treat it. Declines in death rates after age 65 mean that more people will survive to the oldest ages, where risk of AD is greatest."

So what to do next? A broad-based team of researchers considered all the research-based solutions identified to date and found them wanting. Sigh. But I still say "… make out a shopping list — lots of nuts, plenty of seafood, some poultry and loads of colorful fruits and vegetables. The irony is that it's the same kind of food we should eat in order to maintain heart health and manage cancer. There is a lot about the aging process we cannot control — but how many times we eat broccoli in a given week is totally up to us.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.