Study: Women Lose Weight at Least a Decade Before Getting Dementia

A new study reveals that weightloss in some women may be a precursor to dementia.

Women, who eventually develop dementia, begin losing weight at least a decade before the disease is diagnosed, according to a study published in the Aug. 21 issue of Neurology.

Researchers examined the records of 481 people with dementia and compared them to 481 people of the same age and gender who did not have the condition.

The average weight was the same for those in the two groups from 21 to 30 years before the year the disease was diagnosed. But the women who would later develop dementia started losing weight up to 20 years before the disease was diagnosed.

On average, the women with dementia weighed 12 pounds less than those without the disease the year the disease was diagnosed.

“One explanation for the weight loss is that, in the very early stages of dementia, people develop apathy, a loss of initiative, and also losses in the sense of smell,” said study author David Knopman, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and member of the American Academy of Neurology. “When you can’t smell your food, it won’t have much taste, and you might be less inclined to eat it."

Unlike women, men in this study who later developed dementia did not lose weight in the years before diagnosis. Knopman said the difference could be due to hormones, but a social reason seems just as likely.

“Middle-aged and elderly men are less likely to be preparing their own meals,” he said. “Their spouses or adult children were more likely making meals for them, which would lessen the effect of the apathy, loss of initiative and loss of sense of smell.”

The study conflicts with others suggesting that obesity in middle-age may be a risk factor for dementia. Knopman said more research is needed.