BOSTON — Losing weight may actually be a bad idea for older adults, according to a new study. Researchers in Boston have found that attempting to get rid of that annoying pot belly or love handles during middle age increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
Results show older people who pile on the pounds — and then burn them off — are more prone to cognitive decline.
“If after a steady increase in weight that is common as one gets older, there is an unexpected shift to losing weight post midlife, it might be good to consult with one’s healthcare provider and pinpoint why. There are some potential treatments emerging where early detection might be critical in the effectiveness of any of these treatments as they are approved and become available,” says study corresponding author Professor Rhoda Au from Boston University School of Medicine in a media release.
The findings add to evidence that the onset of dementia takes place over many years, perhaps even across a patient’s entire lifetime.
“Dementia is not necessarily inevitable and monitoring risk indicators such as something as easy to notice as weight patterns, might offer opportunities for early intervention that can change the trajectory of disease onset and progression,” Prof. Au continues.
The number of cases worldwide will triple to more than 150 million by 2050, according to estimates. With no cure in sight, there is an increasing focus on lifestyle changes that can slow cognitive decline.
Actively trying to lose weight linked to dementia onset
Patterns of weight gain or loss may predict an individual’s risk. Obesity, measured by BMI (body mass index), continues to be a global epidemic. Studies have suggested a link between middle age fat accumulation and dementia, although the reasons remain unclear.
An international team analyzed data from the Framingham Heart Study, a group of participants from the Massachusetts town followed for four decades. Researchers measured their weight every two to four years. Prof. Au and colleagues compared dementia rates among those whose weight went up, down, or remained stable.
“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,” the professor of anatomy and neurobiology concludes.
The researchers found the overall trend of declining BMI displayed a connection to a higher risk of developing dementia. However, after further exploration, they identified a subgroup with a pattern of initially increasing BMI, followed by declining BMI. Both occurred during middle age, which appears to be central to the declining BMI-dementia association.
The results appear online in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.