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Obesity At Midlife May Lead to Increased Risk for Dementia

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According to research published in Science Daily, even though more than 50 million people are already living with dementia worldwide, it is anticipated that the number of individuals living with the illness will rise to over 150 million by 2050. Alzheimer’s disease is the world’s most serious public health problem.

Obesity, as measured by the body mass index (BMI), is a condition that affects individuals worldwide. Previous research has suggested that obesity in middle age is associated with an increased risk of dementia. However, the relationship between a person’s BMI and the risk of getting dementia is not well known.  

Researchers from Boston University’s Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences & Peking Union Medical College have discovered different patterns of changes in a person’s body mass index (BMI) throughout their lives may be an indicator of a person’s risk for dementia.   

“These findings are important because previous studies that looked at weight trajectories didn’t consider how patterns of weight gain/stability/loss might help signal that dementia is potentially imminent,” says Rhoda Au, Ph.D., a professor of anatomy and neurobiology and the study’s corresponding author.   

“These findings are significant since prior research on weight trajectories did not investigate how patterns of weight gain/stability/loss interact.” For 39 years, researchers studied a group of people who participated in the Framingham Heart Study. During this time, the participants’ weights were checked regularly, usually every two to four years.

The researchers evaluated the varied types of weight change (staying the same, gaining weight, or losing weight) that happened in dementia patients to those that did not develop dementia.  

They discovered a link between a general propensity to have a lower-than-average BMI and an increased risk of dementia. However, after conducting more research, the researchers discovered a subgroup with a pattern of first increasing their BMI, then declining their BMI, both of which occurred within midlife.

Both of these modifications occurred over the same period. This tendency appears to be the key mechanism behind the link between a lower BMI and dementia. Au emphasizes that maintaining track of one’s weight does not provide a significant burden to the individual, members of the individual’s family, or primary care providers.

“If, after reaching middle age, there is an unexpected movement toward weight reduction, it may be useful to consult one’s healthcare professional to establish the source of the weight loss.

Aging is related to the usual and expected steady weight growth. Therefore, an unexpected shift toward weight reduction may occur beyond middle age. Once they’ve been licensed and made available, receiving an early diagnosis will likely be critical to the effectiveness of any of these prospective therapies.

There are presently several potential medicines in the research and development stage.”  With the assistance of this study, the researchers hoped to demonstrate that the factors that enhance a person’s probability of acquiring dementia are acquired over a long period—possibly even a lifetime.

“Dementia is not unavoidable,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and monitoring risk factors such as something as evident as weight swings may provide opportunities for early intervention that can impact the trajectory of the condition starting and advancing. 

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