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Posted: January 18, 2005

Eye on Dementia: Watch Out for Weight Loss

New research suggests weight loss may be an early sign of dementia in the elderly. Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry in London found weight loss begins before the onset of definite dementia symptoms and accelerates by the time of diagnosis.

Weight loss in the elderly is common and may be associated with various diseases including but not limited to Alzheimer's disease. Of course other causes of weight loss in the elderly can be depression, wrong medications, and other underlying disease factors. Once dementia sets in, it can make matters worse. Patients may forget to eat, making them suffer emotionally as well as physically.

Researchers analyzed data on nearly 2,000 Japanese-American men. The men were examined six times over a period of up to 34 years. Weight was measured at each examination, and dementia was ascertained during the final three examinations.

They found dementia was associated with significant previous weight loss. Men who were found to have dementia had lost at least 11 pounds over the two to four years prior to reaching the clinical threshold of dementia. The association was similar in Alzheimer's disease and vascular disease. It?s not altogether clear, however, when the clock started on each diagnosis.

Researchers concluded: "An important consideration arising from research in this area is the extent to which weight loss may be prevented or minimized in dementia. Poor nutrition and frailty frequently complicate later stages of dementia, causing falls, poor wound healing, and increased physical dependence. The results presented here suggest that weight change and nutritional state in people with dementia should be taken seriously at least from the time of diagnosis, if not at earlier stages of more mild cognitive impairment."

The bottom line is that in many cases, 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.

Sudden weight loss should always be a concern that caregivers must report. When you live with someone, it?s often the last thing you notice. Looking out for falls, weakness and loss of appetite are important to mention to the doctor.

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