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A diet considered high in quality according to a healthy eating index preserves cognition in patients at high risk for cardiovascular disease and mental decline, results of a new study suggest.

The research extends findings of previous studies, as it included a large cohort of middle-aged and elderly subjects from 40 countries, said lead author Andrew Smyth, MMedSc, research fellow, Population Health Research Institute, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

"The take-home message from this study is that high diet quality, which is consistent with current healthy eating guidelines, is associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline and suggests that healthy eating may reduce the risk of cognitive decline in addition to the previously reported associations with cardiovascular disease," Dr Smyth told Medscape Medical News.

Diane Schoenfeld comes every Friday to the Chaparral House nursing home in Berkeley, Calif. to spend time with her aunt, Lillie Manger.

"Hi Aunt Lill!" she says, squatting down next to her aunt's wheelchair, meeting her at eye level.

Manger is 97. She has straight white hair pulled back in a neat bun today. It's tied with a green scarf, a stylish reminder of the dancer she used to be.

They go together to the dining room to look over family pictures. Manger needs to be reminded who is in them. Including one of herself. "That's me?" she asks. "That's you," her niece confirms.

"Am I supposed to remember?" says Manger.

Schoenfeld smiles at her encouragingly: "I don't know if you're supposed to. It's OK either way."

Manger has dementia. Schoenfeld is her "surrogate decision maker" meaning that legally, she is the person who makes decisions about Manger's health care. Schoenfeld says Chaparral House is the second nursing home where Manger has lived. The first was 45 minutes away, and Schoenfeld wasn't able to visit as often.

At that first home, caregivers recommended antipsychotic sedatives for some of Manger's behaviors, like crying out and outbursts. Schoenfeld wasn't thrilled about the idea but agreed to it, thinking her aunt might get better care if staff members weren't unhappy with her behavior.