Skip to content

    Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Elderly Weight Loss May Signal Dementia

    Dementia Diagnosis May Follow Late-Life Weight Loss by a Few Years
    By
    WebMD Health News

    Jan. 10, 2005 -- Losing weight late in life may indicate that the brain is inching toward dementia. A long-term study shows that elderly men with dementia lost nearly 10% of their body weight a few years before their dementia diagnosis.

    Shedding pounds is common among the elderly. It's often the result of disease, and the consequences can be serious. If nutrition and energy suffer, health can decline.

    Dementia may come on the heels of late-life weight loss, say Robert Stewart, MD, and colleagues. Stewart works with London's Institute of Psychiatry. Their report appears in the January issue of Archives of Neurology.

    Stewart's team studied more than 1,800 Japanese-American men, following them for 32 years. Participants were examined six times from 1965-1999. They weighed in at each visit and were also screened for dementia at their last three appointments.

    The men were pretty lean to begin with. In middle age, their average body mass index (BMI) was 24. That's a normal BMI, which indicates normal amounts of body fat.

    Nothing remarkable happened during the study's first 26 years. During that time, the men were moving from middle age to senior status. No weight-related differences stood out then between the men who were later diagnosed with dementia and those who weren't.

    Time changed that. When the men were elderly (aged 77-88), the link between weight loss and dementia emerged.

    Dementia was eventually diagnosed in 112 men. Over the last six years of the study, they had lost a little less than one extra pound per year than those without dementia.

    That might not sound like much. But over time, it added up to a loss of at least 11 pounds for the men with dementia. That's about 10% of their body weight, say the researchers, noting that the men never had much weight to spare.

    In many cases, the weight loss preceded the dementia diagnosis by two to four years. That could mean that weight loss is an early warning sign of future dementia.

    Once dementia sets in, it can make matters worse. Patients may forget to eat, making them suffer nutritionally. As a result, they can have a harder time healing from wounds or falls, becoming more physically dependent.

    Today on WebMD

    Remember your finger
    When it’s more than just forgetfulness.
    senior man with serious expression
    Which kinds are treatable?
     
    senior man
    Common symptoms to look for.
    mri scan of human brain
    Can drinking red wine reverse the disease?
     
    Checklist
    ARTICLE
    eating blueberries
    ARTICLE
     
    clock
    Article
    Colored mri of brain
    ARTICLE
     
    Human brain graphic
    ARTICLE
    mature woman
    ARTICLE
     
    Woman comforting ailing mother
    ARTICLE
    Senior woman with serious expression
    ARTICLE