Losing weight in middle age could herald dementia
People who lost weight between middle age and later life were more likely to develop mental cognitive impairment, a precusor of dementia
By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor
Losing weight in middle age could be a sign that dementia is on the way, a new study suggests.
Scientists found that people who shed pounds between midlife and their 70s were more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI) which causes memory and thinking problems.
A study by the Mayo Clinic in the US found that people who lost more than 11 lbs per decade, over a four year period were 24 per cent more likely to develop the condition. Normally around one quarter of people would be diagnosed with MCI during that time, but weight loss raised the chance to one in three.
Lead researcher Dr Rosebud Roberts said: "Our findings suggest that an increasing rate of weight loss from midlife to late life is a marker for MCI and may help identify persons at increased risk of MCI.”
To discover the link, scientists followed more than 1800 people with an average age of 78 for four years. They also scanned their medical records to find out how their weight had changed since middle age. 524 were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment during that time but the risk was much greater for those who had experience greater weight loss in the preceding decades.
The researchers said they could not determine if the weight loss had been intentional or the sign of an underlying illness.
Those who developed MCI were older, more likely to be carriers of a specific gene, and more likely to have diabetes, hypertension, stroke or coronary artery disease compared with study participants who remained cognitively normal.
Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society said: “While the evidence on body weight and dementia is unclear, we know that making positive lifestyle choices can help people keep their brains healthy - taking regular exercise, not smoking and following a healthy balanced diet. It is not unusual for people to lose weight as they get older, but anyone concerned about large, unintentional weight loss should speak to their doctor.”
Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK added: “This study highlights a possible link between weight changes in the decades after middle age and the risk of developing memory and thinking problems that can precede dementia.
“While the findings are interesting, it is difficult to tease apart cause and effect from this kind of study and it is not clear what could be driving this link.
“Weight loss may be the result of early damage in the brain from diseases like Alzheimer’s and could indicate an underlying problem, but there are many reasons why a person’s weight can change.
“Maintaining a healthy weight at any point of life can have health benefits, including helping to control dementia risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure.”