Scientists have found that people in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease may be more likely to have a low body mass index (BMI) than those who are dementia-free.
Researchers at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in the US studied 506 people, using advanced brain imaging techniques and analyses of their cerebrospinal fluid to look for signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Participants included a range of people, from those with no memory problems to individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers discovered that people with no memory problems who had biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease were more likely to have a low BMI than those without the biomarkers.
Study author Dr Jeffrey Burns, whose findings are published in Neurology journal, said: ‘These results suggest Alzheimer’s disease brain changes are associated with systemic metabolic changes in the very earliest phases of the disease.
‘This might be due to damage in the area of the brain called the hypothalamus that plays a role in regulating energy metabolism and food intake.’
Memory Problems: Is It Alzheimer’s?
Mild forgetfulness and memory delays are often part of the normal aging process. Older individuals simply need more time to learn a new fact or to remember an old one. We all have occasional difficulty remembering a word or someone’s name; however, those with Alzheimer’s disease will find these symptoms progressing in frequency and severity. Everyone, from time to time will forget where they placed their car keys; an individual with Alzheimer’s disease may not remember the purpose of the keys. There has been recent interest in a condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Individuals with “amnesic” MCI, the most common form, have memory impairment (for example, difficulty remembering names and following conversations and pronounced forgetfulness), but are able to perform routine daily activities without assistance. These MCI patients generally have normal judgment, perception and reasoning skills. Many people with MCI are at risk for further cognitive decline, usually caused by Alzheimer’s disease. However, while all patients who develop some form of dementia go through a period of MCI, not all patients exhibiting MCI will develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Symptoms of MCI may include:
Memory problems that are noticed by others
Poor performance on cognitive tests
Irritability, anxiety and sometimes aggressive or apathetic behavior
Many conditions can contribute to the development of memory problems and dementia; Alzheimer’s disease is just one of them. A decline in intellectual functioning that significantly interferes with normal social relationships and daily activities is characteristic of dementia, which is most commonly caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease and multi-infarct dementia (a series of small strokes in the brain) cause the vast majority of dementias in the elderly. Other possible causes of dementia-like symptoms include infections, drug interactions, a metabolic or nutritional disorder, brain tumors, depression or another progressive disorder like Parkinson’s disease.
If memory loss increases in frequency or severity, makes an impression on friends and family, begins to interfere with daily activities (for example, employment tasks, social interactions and family chores), seek qualified professional advice and evaluation by a physician with extensive knowledge, experience and interest in dementia and memory problems.
Dr Anne Corbett, research manager at the Alzheimer’s Society, said that it is not yet clear whether a low BMI is part of Alzheimer’s disease or a side-effect of the illness.
She added that more work is needed before scientists can say for sure whether the findings could be used to develop better ways of diagnosing the early stages of Alzheimer’s.