My mother-in-law, a wonderful lady who I loved like my own Mom, had a weight problem most of her life. But, in her later years she had a remarkable loss of pounds and began looking very trim. I remember everyone complimenting her on losing that weight, and asking her about her diet plan. She didn't have one, she said. She had no idea why she was getting thin.
That was six months to a year before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.
A new study has been published in the May 19, 2009 issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology that discusses this phenomenon. The research shows that older people who are losing weight quickly are at a higher risk of developing dementia, especially if they started out overweight or obese.
For the study, researchers followed for eight years 1,836 people in Washington state with an average age of 72. During that time, 129 of them developed dementia.
Those who lost weight over the study period at a faster rate were nearly three times more likely to develop dementia than those who lost weight more slowly over time. “Our finding suggests that losing weight quickly in older age may be an early sign of dementia,” said study author Tiffany Hughes, PhD, MPH, who is with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine but conducted the research while she was a doctoral student at the University of South Florida. “This doesn’t mean that being obese or overweight is healthy for the mind or body, but losing weight may be a sign of emerging brain disease.”
“Dementia has been shown to develop in the brain decades before any symptoms develop,” Hughes said. “These findings likely reflect that process. In middle age, obesity may be a risk factor for dementia, while declining weight in late life may be considered one of the first changes from the disease that occurs before it actually affects a person’s memory.”