It was the advertisement for the red toilet seat that caught my attention. What’s with that, I wondered, and why is it appearing on an Alzheimer’s website alongside red plates, red utensils, red handrails, red…well, you name it.
Our eyes are expert at seeing red. Of the 6 to 7 million cones, the tiny cells in the retina that respond to light, about 64 percent of them respond most strongly to red light, while about a third are set off the most by green light, and another 2 percent respond to blue light.
For Alzheimer’s patients, while their eyes might register in an eye exam as being just fine, their ability to “see” is often affected. Not only does the ability to discern depth disappear, but so does color perception. While many of us lose some ability to discern contrast between colors as our eyes age, “people with Alzheimer’s seem to experience a greater loss. They appear to have the greatest difficulty differentiating colors in the blue-violet spectrum. Red appears to be the easiest color for people with Alzheimer's to perceive.”*
So imagine you open the white door to your white and beige bathroom, where you are greeted by a white tiled floor, beige counters, beige towels on the rack, and a white toilet. The toilet effectively disappears.
Now it gets even weirder. Apparently, vision plays a role in Alzheimer’s patient’s reluctance to eat. This phenomenon is explained by Boston University bio-psychologist Alice Cronin-Golomb and her research partners in a 2004 article subtitled, “If you couldn’t see your mashed potatoes, you probably wouldn’t eat them.”
According to Dr. Cronin-Golomb, “Nursing home staff often complain that Alzheimer’s patients do not finish the food on their plates even when staff encourages them to do so. Forty percent of individuals with severe Alzheimer’s lose an unhealthy amount of weight. Previous explanations for this phenomenon included depression, inability to concentrate on more than one food at a time, and inability to eat unassisted.”
Cronin-Golomb’s team tested advanced Alzheimer’s patients’ level of food intake with standard white plates and with bright-red ones. They discovered that patients eating from red plates consumed 25 percent more food than those eating from white plates.**
This makes me realize why Mom is always attracted to the brightly colored clothes and store signs we see when we walk in town. She is particularly enamored of the wide open sky.
The best case scenario would be to eliminate Alzheimer’s, to reverse the damage it causes to its victims brains. That may well happen, but not in Mom’s life time. Instead, with research like the “red plate experiment,” I am amazed to realize that we have the ability to make things a little easier for Mom as her cognitive abilities decline.
How will we know when Mom is ready for red plates and red toilet seats? Many aspects of this disease are subtle—the downward slide occurring imperceptibly—that we may not know. Now is as good a time as any to prepare. Today I noticed the red playground near my house, the red gym bag, my red wagon, red vegetables, red shoes, red stripes on my daughter’s sheets. Red is all around us.
I’m in the market for some red plates. The toilet seat? I’m working on accepting that one. It’ll have to wait.
Color is an important factor in food being appetizing. When my daughter started her 12th grade exams this week, she asked me to make her a dish that used to be a standard in our house: lettuce wraps. How could I refuse? Dishes are so much tastier when they are made with love. Plus, the green lettuce is easy to see.
We first tasted this dish in California at my brother’s house. With its Asian flavor and use of lettuce instead of tortillas or other wraps, it is a delicious low-carb meal. Serve with a layer of brown rice in the wrap as a nutritious addition. Kudos to my sister-in-law Sharon for her culinary delight. I may even request her famous deviled egg recipe.
1 lb ground beef
1 carrot grated
½ cup cabbage grated
(alternative or addition: 1 squash grated)
¼ cup chopped peanuts
3 spring onions chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Sesame Ginger Sauce:
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp sesame oil
¼ cup date honey
2 tsp ground ginger
3 cloves garlic chopped
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
10 washed lettuce leaves
Sauté meat in large pot, draining the liquid when meat is cooked. Add carrots, cabbage and peanuts and simmer for 20 minutes. Pour on sesame ginger sauce and add spring onions. Remove from heat. Place a small amount of meat on a lettuce leaf, turn up the bottom and sides, and wrap as if wrapping a tortilla.
*“The Alzheimer’s Eye Sees Things Differently”
** Read the full BU article here.